In a playoff race with razor-thin margins, tonight’s clash between the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Clippers is a big one. The Nuggets have only lost to the Houston Rockets in the month of February, going 7-2 so far, but that hasn’t helped them solidify a playoff spot at all. The Nuggets are currently 8th in the Western Conference, with the Clippers sitting in 9th, but both teams are tied in the loss column and just one loss back of the Minnesota Timberwolves for 3rd.

The Clippers won 109-104 in their last meeting, but many things have changed for the clubs since then. Both teams are missing players, both teams are indifferent-to-awful defensively depending on the night, and both teams rely on scoring outbursts to pull out victories. Denver being at home gives them the edge, but there should be fireworks tonight for the late-night national TV broadcast.

The Basics

Who: Los Angeles Clippers (31-27) at Denver Nuggets (33-27)

When: 8:30 PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: TNT and KKSE Altitude Radio AM950

Rival Blog: Clips Nation

Injury Report

Paul Millsap – wrist (QUESTIONABLE), Torrey Craig – hamstring (questionable), Tyler Lydon – knee (out), Danilo Gallinari – questionable (hand), Patrick Beverly – out (knee), Avery Bradley – out (sports hernia), Jawun Evans – out (potential sports hernia)

Three Things to Watch

Which team wants to play defense? Let’s face it, key defenders for both teams are out injured, with the Clippers losing the on-ball defense of both Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverly while the Nuggets are without the front-court defense of Paul Millsap and the wing efforts of Torrey Craig. It’s possible – POSSIBLE – that Millsap could log some minutes in this game with his status changed to questionable, in which case I may squee like someone handed me a puppy to cuddle. It’s more likely, though, that two teams that currently play defense like they can’t wait to get back to playing offense will exchange open drives to the bucket and spaciously-inviting jumpers until someone gets tired.

Wilson Chandler vs. Tobias Harris. The DeAndre Jordan / Nikola Jokic matchup is always fascinating from a clashing-styles point of view, and I could write a whole column on Will Barton vs. Lou Williams, but I am really intrigued to see the rejuvenated Chandler match up against the ascending Tobias Harris. Harris has had a career year thus far, and after being traded in a package for Blake Griffin has continued his strong play. In February he’s averaging 19.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and even 3.1 assists per game – what the Clippers dreamed of getting from Danilo Gallinari, who may or may not play tonight.

Chandler hasn’t been that good in February, and his defense hasn’t been quite as on point this month either, but his 11.6 points and 5.1 rebounds have come with much better shooting and intensity since the trade deadline passed. Someone needs to slow Tobias Harris down in this game (aside: there are too many Harrises in this game) and Chandler is best-equipped for this job. It should be a fun battle.

Rebound, rebound, rebound. The Nuggets are second in the league in offensive rebounding. The Clippers are 25th in defensive rebounding. Any caroms from Denver’s side should be available for the taking but the Nuggets, and they will need to work their putback game. Limiting the rebounds on the other side (where LA is still just middle-of-the-pack) will also help. The Clippers do not whip the ball around the court like the Nuggets (LA is 5th-worst, Denver is 4th-best) so the Nuggets shouldn’t be forced out of rebounding position hustling to the ball all the time. Grab those boards, Denver, and make your life easier on both ends.

Prediction: The game should be entertaining. Coach Michael Malone’s eyes might bleed a little from the defensive lapses, but it’s hard to come into Denver and run the Nuggets off the floor now that they are fully engaged in their offensive attack. I’m not expecting another triple-double from Jokic, but the Clippers struggle to disrupt another team’s flow right now and a shootout is right up Denver’s alley. Final score: Denver 116, Clippers 106.

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