The Nuggets are set to host the short-handed Los Angeles Clippers, who left starting center DeAndre Jordan and power forward Blake Griffin home after their loss Wednesday to Milwaukee, in need of another significant win as the playoff race in the Western Conference stays tight.

Regular season game No. 68 | Denver Nuggets (32-35) vs Los Angeles Clippers (40-28)

Pepsi Center, Denver Colorado | 7:00 PM MST | TV: Altitude

Slumping, short-handed Clips

The Clippers had high hopes entering this season but injuries to Paul and Griffin have Los Angeles currently underachieving. There’s still time for the Clippers to right the ship, but they need to act fast. Los Angeles is sitting at the No. 5 spot in the West, on a two-game losing streak, and have a bottom-10 defense and near-bottom-10 differential since the All-Star break.

After a close fourth-quarter loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at home Wednesday, coach Doc Rivers said postgame that he’d leave Griffin and Jordan in Los Angeles to rest during a brutal back-to-back in Denver Thursday.

In the frontcourt, the Clippers will likely turn to backup big man Marreese Speights and seldom-used reserve Brandon Bass. The Nuggets, who’s frontcourt featuring Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee has flourished as of late, and will likely get another start with Danilo Gallinari (knee) and Wilson Chandler (groin), both out.

In 56 minutes over the 12 games since Plumlee has been in Denver, the Nuggets are a +21 plus-minus when Plumlee and Jokic share the floor and have a 111.4 Offensive Rating, 99.8 Defensive Rating, and 11.6 Net Rating.

Defense in Denver

The Nuggets’ offense has been a constant all season, but Denver’s defense since the All-Star break is what has many around the team excited about their prospects heading down the stretch.

Since the break, Denver is the 16th-ranked defense in the league, that’s up 15 spots from their pre-All-Star break numbers. One reason is Plumlee.

With Plumlee, who’s a more active and mobile defender, especially in pick-and-rolls than Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic, the Nuggets can be more up the floor and more aggressive on defense.

“We’ve changed our coverages to be more aggressive,” Malone said earlier in March. “So the gameplan has been less being down the floor, more being up and I think that’s helped us at times. When you are aggressive in pick-and-rolls for example, that does open up other areas, and you need great weakside awareness to account for that. But I think having a guy like Mason Plumlee, who’s so versatile in pick-and-rolls, you can do a lot of different things.”

We’ll see if Denver can continue their rise on the defensive end of the floor against the short-handed Clippers Thursday night.

Playoff Picture

Denver currently sits two games up on Portland for the eighth seed in the West. The Trailblazers won Wednesday in San Antonio. The Mavericks, who won Wednesday in Washington, are three games back, while the Timberwolves sit four games behind the Nuggets.

None of those other eighth seed contenders are in action Thursday.

Harrison Wind

Harrison is a Boulder, Colorado native who graduated from CU-Boulder in 2013. He is currently residing in downtown Denver and is the lead Nuggets writer for BSN Denver. Harrison is in his second year covering the Nuggets as a credentialed reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @NBAWind.