The Denver Nuggets face the Los Angeles Clippers again tonight, this time to wrap up the preseason. In the previous game, Denver’s starters (plus Christian Braun) all sat out. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard helped the Clippers to a 116-103 victory over the backups for the Nuggets, who got some nice experience against NBA talent without really challenging much in the second half. Coach Michael Malone was reported to be rejoining the team in L.A. after taking time away due to the loss of his father, Brendan Malone. Will the starters suit up in this one to get Malone one trial run back with the team before the season opener? Watch and find out.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (2-2) at Los Angeles Clippers (2-1)

When: 8:00 PM MDT

Where: Arena. Los Angeles, CA.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless it’s the romanticized 18th century type. Altitude if ya got it, NBA League Pass for non-Nuggets market viewers. Altitude Radio 92.5 FM.

Rival blog: 213 Hoops

Injury report: Denver’s top six players – questionable (preseason vibes), Jay Huff – out (ribs), Vlatko Cancar – out (knee); Brandon Boston Jr. – out (knee).

The Three Things

Will Malone be back?

This was the same note from the last preview against the Clippers, and for good reason. If Michael Malone returns to the coaching lineup and his squad wants to go out and play with their hair on fire, this preseason game looks a lot different than if they use it for more conditioning for the bench players. Malone and his whole family just suffered a tremendous loss, and if he is not ready to coach then I wish him all the recovery time he needs. Emotional wounds are not less important or impactful than physical ones. If Moach is back and running the squad, then this could absolutely look like a regular season Nuggets game for as long as the starters are in there – or longer.

Final chance to impress for the rotation

Denver’s top 7 are locked, with Reggie Jackson and Christian Braun near-certainties for the Opening Day lineup assuming health. It’s the other two or three rotation spots that have to be sorted. Nobody has looked better in the preseason than rookie Julian Strawther for Denver, and Zeke Nnaji has shown great aggression and effort on both sides of the ball even if his finishing needs a bit more work. But can Jalen Pickett or Hunter Tyson get first-week minutes over someone like Justin Holiday? Will Collin Gillespie be waving a towel or checking into a game next week? If anybody wants further consideration for early-season minutes, their chance to throw a hat in the ring is tonight.

Stay Healthy

Do I want to see Michael Porter Jr. and Christian Braun get stretched out a bit in pre-season? Of course. Would I rather they have 5 more days of rest and have to knock off some rust in season rather than risk any kind of re-injury? Absolutely. I want Denver to defend the title with its full complement of stars from Game 1 all the way through June, but that isn’t likely to happen. Players get nicked up during the season. Missing the remaining preseason game, or even Game 1, is preferable to a reaggravation and setback for anyone. Jamal Murray had his wrist and thumb taped two games ago – if he needs to rest it for another week, so be it. It’s a long season, and Denver is good enough to stretch themselves out in the regular season regardless of how much we’re all champing at the bit to see the Nuggets taking the best shots that every team in the league has to offer. But the first key to title defense is to have all your weapons when it matters. It’s a long season, and I’m okay with Denver catching teams in the back stretch rather than leading from the gate.

Still, if they WANT to deploy the full arsenal tonight and going into the season, who am I to deny them? Whatever comes, just remember: next week they hang a banner, hand out rings, and start a full season of King of the Mountain. Get ready.