The Denver Nuggets headed to L.A. for a pair of games against the Los Angeles Clippers to finish out the preseason. For the first of the two games, the advantage was heavily tilted in the Clippers favor. Ty Lue elected to use the game as a dress rehearsal where as David Adelman elected to use the game as a rest night. This pitted the Clipper starters against the Nuggets reserves. Denver’s bench unit did they best they could with Reggie Jackson, Julian Strawther, Hunter Tyson, Peyton Watson and Braxton Key all having their moments, but in the end it was just too lopsided of a matchup. Paul George looked like he wound the clock back to his Pacers days, Ivica Zubac was dominant in the paint and the Clippers overpowered Denver to a lopsided victory.

No one told Strawther and Jackson that the Nuggets were supposed to lose and those two carried the offense early on. Strawther was back to cashing threes (deep ones at that) just like he’s done all preseason and Jackson, after a couple nights rest, looked good coming out of the gate. He was attacking the basket for high percentage looks and also knocking down some threes of his own. Denver got a quick early lead but it wouldn’t last long. Zubac and George fought back for LA, scoring eighteen of the Clippers first 23 points. Still, Denver hung tough with the Clippers full lineup as the first progressed. Tyson knocked down his first three point attempt of the game and Watson drove the lane for a layup to keep Denver up by one. The reserves weren’t exactly the sharpest shooting down the stretch but the Clippers also threw up a lot of bricks. Their offense went virtually extinct after George and Zubac went to the bench and Bones Hyland tried to take over the scoring (he shot 1-4 from the field, 0-2 from three in the first). The teams slogged their way to the end of the quarter with the Clippers up 25-23.

Strawther got the scoring going for Denver to start the second but Zubac was back in for the Clippers and feasting on a Nuggets team sans Nikola Jokic. He bullied Nnaji in the paint and paid no mind to the shorter Key. The Clippers were sloppy with the basketball though and let turnovers lead to Nuggets points on the other end so neither team established a lead early in the 2nd quarter. Tyson got a pair of buckets for Denver but then they hit a lull offensively. The flow to the offense was absent which led to a ton of iron and no net on Denver shots. Meanwhile the Clippers started to find their rhythm. Nic Batum knocked down a three to put them up by four and force Adelman to call a timeout. That sparked a quick 4-0 run for the Nuggets but it was otherwise all Clippers with a few minutes left in the half. Strawther continued to play well despite not having the best half shooting and Jackson was shooting threes whether they were ill-advised or not but the talent gap was notable. George got what ever he wanted and closed out the half leading the Clippers to a nine point advantage, 60-51.

Denver opened the second half a little cold but got a nice drive from Watson and a three from Jackson to keep within striking distance. The Clippers meanwhile gave George and Leonard the rest of the night off. It didn’t matter much, Norman Powell and Hyland still kept the lead in the double digit range for LA in the early part of the third in what was sizing up to be an offensively challenged quarter for Denver. Much like the second quarter, the Nuggets hung tough with the Clippers for the first part of the third, but as the quarter drug on the offense stalled while the Clippers slowly but surely grew the lead. Hyland got an opportunity to be the focal point of the offense and took advantage, no doubt motivated to play well against his previous team. Tyson had a couple nice plays on offense for Denver with the quarter wrapping up and kept the lead from getting completely out of hand but after three quarters the Nuggets had a big hole to climb out of trailing 91-72.

Key opened the fourth with a couple of buckets in the paint, including one that drew a foul (he missed the free throw) and Tyson hit a three for a mini Nuggets run. Unfortunately, deep Clippers reserve Xavier Moon suddenly caught fire and hit three buckets around a single Watson three. Just like that the lead was twenty points. A timeout refocused the Nuggets for a minute, with Nnaji getting a pair of baskets, but it was quickly the Clippers back to stretching the lead with Denver’s offense once again going cold. Jordan Miller, a Clippers two-way player, got in on the act of scoring as both teams started emptying out their benches with about five minutes left to go in the game. For Denver’s side, Key and Tyson deserve credit for continuing to play hard despite the game clearly being over. They both had their best night in a Denver uniform bolstered by strong fourth quarter performances. It wasn’t nearly enough, but the Nuggets did get it down to a respectable (considering the lineups) 13 point loss by the time the buzzer sounded.

Much of the same themes from the bench unit

Denver’s bench bigs had a tough task again tonight and it didn’t always look pretty for them. Nnaji and Key found a lot of difficulty handling Zubac who looked like the second coming of Marc Gasol. This was a theme in the two games in Chicago as well with those smaller guys being overpowered by Andre Drummond. It remains to be seen how much teams might pick up on this potential weakness and try to attack it. On the wings side of things it wasn’t Strawther’s best night shooting the ball but it also was the night where he was asked to do the most in terms of shooting the ball. He still looked like the best player on the court for Denver by a fair margin. I’m still not sure he’s actually going to be in the rotation because two wing players for Denver, Christian Braun and Michael Porter Jr., will definitely get minutes and have yet to play this preseason. A nice change of pace from what we saw was the play of Tyson, he finally found rhythm with his shot and looked like the player who flashed so much in Summer League.

Calvin Booth clarifies his comments

Calvin Booth was on the broadcast during the second quarter and at the end of his interview he was given the option to clarify comments (see above) from the Summer that came out in an article by the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor this week. It sounds like Booth’s comments were not intended to be on the record. Now, I know what you’re thinking “on the record or not, he didn’t deny saying it.” It’s always important to remember when reading written quotes that the tone we hear in our head is implied and we don’t have the full context of the conversation.  Booth was complimentary of both Porter and Hyland in his interview tonight and commended Mike as a core piece of the team for his character, defense and offense (he did forget to mention Watson when talking about this year’s rotation). Is it unfortunate that these comments came out in the way they did? Sure, but it’s not like any of them should be a surprise. At the end of the day they are in line with the actual actions  the Nuggets front office took. Bones was traded, Mike got a big contract, Bruce got paid elsewhere and Watson appears to be in the rotation (we think….maybe).

Stay away from meaningless games in LA

My pregame betting advice? Be very weary of putting any money on a Nuggets team playing a meaningless game after spending the night in Los Angeles. Add in Denver resting their rotation and this game was absolutely one to stay away from. However, the broadcast said the Nuggets expect coach Michael Malone to return to the team for the final preseason game on Thursday and Denver is likely to use that game as their dress rehearsal. This makes sense because Malone has yet to coach the team this preseason so I’m sure they’d like to get at least one in with the regular rotation and regular coach. I doubt there will be a line on the game on Thursday, but if there is I’m probably heavy on the Nuggets.