The Denver Nuggets have lost their momentum, but not all hope is lost.

At 12-18, the Nuggets have exactly the same record after 30 games as they did last season. The difference between last year and this year? Games 31 through 35 occurred against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, and the Trail Blazers again. The Nuggets went 0-5.

At 12-18 this season, the Nuggets’ next five games are against the Los Angeles Clippers tonight, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, the Warriors, and the Sacramento Kings. That is a much more palatable five game stretch, one in which the Nuggets could stay close enough to a winning record to keep morale high. A 15-20 record looks infinitely better than a 12-23 record where losses nearly double up the total wins. A 16-19 record (with a potential loss to Golden State) is pretty appealing as well.

With that in mind, the next game is against a Los Angeles Clippers team that could be without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

The Basics:

Who: Denver Nuggets (12-18) vs Los Angeles Clippers (22-10)

When: 8:30 PM MST

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV, NBA TV, Altitude Radio 950 AM

Rival blog: Clips Nation

Position Nuggets Clippers Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay Raymond Felton Clippers
SG Gary Harris J.J. Redick Clippers
SF Danilo Gallinari Luc Mbah a Moute Nuggets
PF Wilson Chandler Paul Pierce Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic DeAndre Jordan Clippers
Bench Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Juancho Hernangomez, Alonzo Gee, Malik Beasley, Mike Miller, Jusuf Nurkic Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson, Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass Nuggets

Injury report: Blake Griffin – out (knee), Chris Paul – questionable (hamstring), J.J. Redick – questionable (hamstring); Jusuf Nurkic – questionable (Christmas Cookies)

Key matchup: Chris Paul vs his own hamstring. There aren’t very many must-win games for the Nuggets this year, and Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers may not even be a must-win. The only reason it may gain that title for a team with playoff aspirations like Denver is one player: Chris Paul. Paul is sitting out Christmas night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, and members of Clips Nation (link to site above) speculated in the preview against the Lakers that Paul may sit against the Lakers in order to play against the Nuggets.

For the sake of Denver’s chances of winning, the Nuggets better hope that Paul is sitting on Sunday because the injury is worse than expected. Not that anyone should root for injuries to happen, but the Nuggets have a much smaller chance of winning if Paul plays. His presence combined with DeAndre Jordan is the absolute worst matchup for Emmanuel Mudiay, Nikola Jokic, and the rest of the Nuggets. Sure, J.J. Redick being out would also be incredible, but that also opens up more time for Nugget killer Jamal Crawford, and if Paul could turn Luc Mbah a Moute into a 40 percent shooter from beyond the arc…I’m worried is all.

Key thing to watch for: if the Nuggets match the intensity of the Clippers. Last game, the Clippers immediately came out firing and made nearly every shot they attempted. With Paul orchestrating and Jordan drawing the gravity of perimeter players, the Clippers generated open three after open three. On the defensive end, they pressured the basketball and never allowed the Nuggets a free lane to the rim. If there was a free lane, it was quickly filled by Jordan’s fearsome shot-blocking. On both ends, the Nuggets need to play with more physicality and desire on both ends. Initiate contact. Close-out hard. Never settle on offense. Win 50-50 balls. Do the things that good teams do to win the game.

Opening thought: Nikola Jokic needs to call his own number. The best thing about Jokic is that he makes the best possible decision with the basketball nearly every single time. What Jokic needs to understand though, is that’s what the scouting report says too. The Clippers will be game planning for that, as they did a week ago in the first meeting. On countless occasions, Jordan left Jokic with enough spacing to shoot an uncontested midrange jumper, and after missing one, he stopped taking that shot. If Nikola Jokic is going to develop into the star the Nuggets and their fans think he can be, then he has to start calling his own number on both ends and be the aggressor. The Nuggets are transitioning into Jokic’s team, and if they see him playing well and being aggressive, the rest of the group will follow suit.

Prediction: This is two-fold. If Chris Paul doesn’t play, I think the Nuggets will have a ton of confidence and win by double digits. If Chris Paul does play, I think the Nuggets lose by double digits. He has THAT MUCH impact against this Nuggets team. For the time being, I will assume that he plays and that the Nuggets lose 118-106.