The Denver Nuggets face the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center tonight in the second matchup of the season for the teams. The Nuggets enter the game on a three game losing streak, going winless since the All-Star break, while the Clippers sandwiched blowout home wins over the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns around a three-point loss to the Golden State Warriors since the break.
The Clippers won in Denver on November 24th, 111-94 in their only previous matchup on the season. All five of the Clippers starters scored in double figures as well as Jamal Crawford with 15 points off the bench. The Nuggets were led by Danilo Gallinari, who, despite shooting just 2-10 from the field, managed 20 points on the strength of hitting 16 of his 17 free throw attempts and hauling in 18 defensive rebounds on the night. The Clippers and Nuggets will play for the third and final time of the season on March 27th in Los Angeles.
The New Guys
While the trade deadline passed with a fizzle for most of the league, both the Nuggets and Clippers are getting significant contributions from their new acquisitions. The Clippers picked up Jeff Green from the Memphis Grizzlies to help pick up the slack for the injured Blake Griffin and he did so on Monday, scoring 18 points on 6-10 shooting, 2-3 from three point range and adding 5 rebounds and a blocked shot in just 24 minutes. Green gives the Clippers another player, along with 6th-man-extraordinaire Jamal Crawford, who can take over games for stretches offensively.
For the Nuggets, D.J. Augustin made a good enough impression on the Nuggets coaching staff that he was given the keys to the team down the stretch against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night, where he scored 10 points in the quarter. Augustin's ability to knock down threes (5-10 since the trade) and handle the ball are a welcomed addition to the roster and will be key down the stretch and allow Jameer Nelson to fully recover from his wrist injury (Nelson is listed as probable against the Clippers).
Stop the Streak
Losing the first three games coming out of the All-Star break marks the first time the Nuggets have lost three games in a row during the 2016 portion of this season's schedule. They did drop their first two of 2016 to the Blazers and the Warriors in OT, which capped an overall six-game losing streak, but since then have avoided any prolonged periods of poor play.
The last three games of February will certainly provide a challenge for the Nuggets to get back into the win column with a road game in Dallas against the Mavericks, and home matchup with the Grizzlies following tonight's game against the Clippers in Los Angeles. March starts off with a much easier slate as the Nuggets will play seven of eight home games in a row against the Lakers, Nets, Mavs, Knicks, Suns and Wizards.
Nuggets of Interest
The Nuggets have struggled mightily this season against teams with shot blockers, so facing DeAndre Jordan (2.3 blocks per game) will be a big test tonight. Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic and even Emmanuel Mudiay and Gary Harris will have to be aggressive attacking the rim to keep Jordan from dictating the play in the paint all night.
Chris Paul is still one of the most aggressive defensive players among NBA point guards, so Mudiay will have his hands full tonight. In their last matchup, Mudiay only turned the ball over 3 times, but only had 4 assists and 7 points to show for the night and a team-worst -18 +/- rating. Mudiay will have to have more success against Paul for the Nuggets to end their losing streak tonight.
Gary Harris needs to bounce back tonight and will likely be a key to Denver sneaking out of Staples Center with a victory. Harris only managed 4 points on Tuesday against the Kings, but will likely draw a matchup against some combination of JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford, which he should be able to exploit. Harris' ability to shut down or at least limit both Redick and Crawford at the other end will go a long way towards determining the outcome of the game as well.