The Denver Nuggets take their last trip to the West Coast tonight to face the Los Angeles Clippers as the regular season winds down. The Clippers will be missing Kawhi Leonard and are struggling down the stretch, going 5-5 in their last 10 but are still holding the 4 seed with a 2 game lead, and currently would have home court in their first round playoff matchup. The Nuggets meanwhile currently control their own destiny in the West, as they are tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves but face the Timberwolves one more time still this season. The Clippers want home court in the first round, while the Nuggets are in fight to have it throughout the Western Conference. The game matters to both squads, but without Kawhi and potentially Jamal Murray this is going to be a desperate fight for a W between two former playoff combatants who aren’t at full strength but do crave victory.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (53-23) at Los Angeles Clippers (47-28)

When: 8:00 PM MST

Where: The Crypto Arena Thing in Los Angeles

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. ALTITUDE 2, TNT/TRUTV, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in Denver. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.

Rival blog: 213 Hoops

Injury Report

Nikola Jokic – probable (hip/wrist), Aaron Gordon – probable (foot), Jamal Murray – questionable (knee), Zeke Nnaji – doubtful (adductor), Vlatko Cancar – out (knee); Kawhi Leonard – out (knee), Josh Primo – out (ankle).

The Three Things

The thing to watch for: Nikola Jokic vs Everyone

Some days it takes a village, and for the Clippers they’re gonna need everyone to help slow down Nikola Jokic. He went one-on-one with Victor Wembanyama in Denver’s last game against the San Antonio Spurs and led Denver to victory, but it’s unlikely the Clippers are going to rely on Ivica Zubac alone to do what Wemby could not. Expect the Clippers to crowd Jokic and hope to have the other Nuggets miss their shots like they did against the Spurs in order to keep the game close. Will Jokic continue his high-scoring ways or will he throw potential assists out to his teammates in the hopes they become actual assists this time? If both things happen the Clippers are sunk, so they’ll have to pick their poison against a team that has their number; Denver has won 8 of their last 9 versus the Clippers, so L.A. will have to try something new and better if they hope to change history.

The thing to remember:  Los Angeles has the better scoring bench, so Denver’s will need to bring the defense

The Clippers bench has scored 2,666 points this year, to Denver’s 2210, which is no surprise. Scoring is not the strong suit of Denver’s reserves, even more so when Jamal Murray has been out and Reggie Jackson has to run with the starters. But Denver’s bench does have switchable defenders who can create problems for smaller teams and start fast breaks based on turnovers. The Clippers are pretty decent at keeping control of the ball, but without leading scorer (and defender and a lot of other things) Kawhi Leonard they’ll have to take more risks on both units, and Denver can capitalize. LA’s starters are unlikely to outscore Denver’s, but the reserves for the Nuggets will have to ensure that there are no surprise scoring explosions from the likes of Bones Hyland or Norman Powell to trip Denver up.

The thing to bet: Aaron Gordon over 14.5 points (-110)

Without Kawhi the Clippers are lacking some muscle, and Gordon normally feasts in the dunker spot against teams that have to blitz Nikola Jokic. He’s had some nice scoring nights against the Clippers in the last couple of years, and 15 points don’t seem too many to ask for especially with the connection he and Jokic have to thread defenses for easy finishes. Assuming the Nuggets win, they’ll likely get a nice scoring game on finishes and putbacks from AG, so might as well put some money on it.