Merry Christmas! Merry Stiffsmas!

The Denver Nuggets are back at Ball Arena for their second game of the season, this time against the Los Angeles Clippers in the last of the Christmas Day games. Of course, these teams know each other well after Denver won their second round series by way of a 3-1 comeback. Each team made some roster and coaching adjustments in offseason but the core players from that series have largely remained.

Los Angeles opened the season by beating the defending champion Lakers 116-109 behind 33 points by Paul George and 26 from Kawhi Leonard. They looked good and will certainly try to put the blown 3-1 lead behind them against the Nuggets tonight.

Meanwhile, much of Denver is still shocked from the season-opening loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. Nikola Jokic looked like he might make a run for MVP this year with a 29 point, 15 rebound, 14 assist triple-double and Michael Porter Jr. scored 24 points in the starting small forward spot. The rest of the team, though, was uninspiring as collectively the Nuggets took their foot of the gas and let the game slip away. If that happens against the Clippers tonight, it will be a sad Christmas in Denver.

The Essentials

Who: Los Angeles Clippers (1-0) at Denver Nuggets (0-1)

When: 8:30 PM MDT

Where: Ball Arena, Denver, CO

How to watch/listen: ESPN

Position Nuggets Clippers
PG Jamal Murray Patrick Beverly
SG Gary Harris Nicolas Batum
SF Michael Porter Jr. Kawhi Leonard
PF Paul Millsap Paul George
C Nikola Jokic Serge Ibaka
Bench Will Barton, Monte Morris, Isaiah Hartenstein, Facu Campazzo, PJ Dozier Lou Williams, Ivica Zubac, Luke Kennard, Patrick Patterson

Injury Report: Jamal Murray – probable (calf), JaMychal Green – out (calf), Greg Whittington – out (knee); Marcus Morris – out (knee)

Three Questions

Which Jamal Murray will we get tonight? There’s no sugarcoating it, the Jamal Murray on opening night was awful – but one game is one game. We know Murray is better than that, and most importantly, that he shows up on the big stage. In the playoffs against the Clippers this past September, Murray averaged 22.6 points so we know he’s capable of it. Will we see that version of Murray, the bubble phenomenon who has made the leap? Or has that bubble burst already?

How will Denver hold up on the perimeter? This is the biggest question mark remaining after Jerami Grant’s departure, and we already saw stretches against Sacramento (like Harrison Barnes in OT) where wing players just did whatever they wanted. Grant was critical in the playoffs against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and now both he and Torrey Craig are gone. JaMychal Green is listed as out again. The Nuggets might really struggle at this tonight – both Leonard and George had great opening nights and I’m sure are looking to prove their playoff loss was a fluke. Can the trio of Gary Harris, MPJ and Paul Millsap slow them down enough? We’ll see.

Will there be a better performance from the bench unit? To be fair, foul trouble probably made the rotation’s on Wednesday a little more unusual than Malone probably would have liked, but the bench unit left a lot to be desired. Will Barton provided 16 points and looked mostly good, but the Nuggets need more from the rest of the bench. Monte Morris was M.I.A. and Campazzo didn’t really get a chance to do anything. Isaiah Hartenstein picked up four fouls in just nine minutes. It will take time, but the bench eventually needs to be a strength of this team and not a weakness.