Los Angeles Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets NBA Playoffs Preview

Neither the Los Angeles Clippers nor the Denver Nuggets made quick work of their first-round opponents. Nonetheless, the higher seeds moved onto the Western Conference Semifinals. This matchup squares off the deep rosters of the second-seeded Clippers and third-seeded Nuggets. 

NBA Playoffs Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets  

First Round Troubles 

Reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers through a tumultuous first-round matchup with the Dallas Mavericks. While his supporting cast struggled, Leonard carried the load averaging 32.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game. 

Dallas pushed Los Angeles to six games with the struggles of the Clippers supporting cast. Although Los Angeles’ game five blowout was an aberration,  the remaining five games of this series played close, each decided by 20 points or less. 

The Nuggets used heroics from Jamal Murray to storm back from a 3-1 hole to the Utah Jazz. In doing so, Denver became just the 12th team in NBA history to rally back from a 3-1 deficit. 

As is deserving of any series that goes seven games, the ending was chaotic. 

Frontcourt 

The frontcourt matchup is intriguing with some differences in size and versatility between both sides. On one side, the Clippers will have their hands full defending the Nuggets frontcourt, in which all things run through star center Nikola Jokic

Jokic is, perhaps, the league’s best passing big man. Aside from LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jokic is easily the best passer for a player of his size. The 7-footer enjoys a bevy of options to pair with his passing ability. Of the frontcourt options, Los Angeles will need to target Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant

Both scored at an average rate in the first round, however, Porter Jr. has been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA Bubble. In the eight seeding games, he averaged 22 points per game, ranking 15th in the entire league. 

The Denver frontcourt is considered one of the bigger lineups in the league, however, the team struggled to grab defensive rebounds against Utah’s Rudy Gobert in the first round. On the flip side, the Nuggets were the third-best offensive rebounding team in the first round, pulling down 10.6 per game. 

Los Angeles plays a relatively smaller lineup, led by Leonard, Marcus Morris, and Ivica Zubac. Zubac stands at 7-feet, but it’s likely the Clippers will utilize the versatility of their frontcourt defense to shut down Jokic and Porter Jr. 

Zubac and Montrezl Harrell should be able to slow down Jokic, while Leonard will be tasked with the likes of Porter Jr., Grant, and Paul Millsap. Leonard is one of the best all-around defenders in the league and welcomes any matchup with his lengthy wingspan. 

Leonard is the “X” factor in this frontcourt matchup. Denver lacks versatile defenders to slow down Leonard, so expect big numbers from the superstar in this series.   

Advantage: Los Angeles Clippers

Backcourt

On Wednesday, Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers said he expected Patrick Beverley to see action in game one of this series. This provides Los Angeles with a much-needed weapon to slow down the offensive firepower of Murray. 

Despite just two days of rest, Murray looks to continue his hot streak. In seven games against the Jazz, Murray dropped in 31.6 points and 6.3 assists per game, while shooting 53.3 percent from deep. 

Beverley lives up to his reputation as one of the peskiest, daunting perimeter defenders in the NBA. We’ll see how limited his action is returning from the left calf strain. 

Paul George struggled mightily in round one. As the other feature superstar on this deep Clippers roster, George did not show up against the Mavericks. According to ESPN.com, “George shot a combined 10-for-47 in Games 2, 3 and 4, including going 4-for-25 from 3.” He bounced back with 35 points in game five but was relatively quiet again in the series clincher. 

Los Angeles also rolls out the league’s best sixth man with Lou Williams. Williams averaged 16 points, 4.3 assists, and shot better than 50 percent from the field in round one. If George returns to form, the Nuggets will have a nightmare defending the Clippers backcourt of stars. 

Advantage: Los Angeles Clippers

Coaching and Intangibles 

Doc Rivers is one of the more notable, decorated, and accomplished coaches in today’s NBA. He’s a one-time NBA Coach of the Year (1999-00) and NBA Champion (2007-08). In 21 years of coaching, Rivers has racked up 943 career wins against 681 losses. 

Despite this awesome resume, some may argue that Rivers fails to deliver anticipated playoff success. In 16 playoff appearances, Rivers has only led two teams to the NBA Finals, and only once reached the Conference Finals. He’s also exited eight times in the first round. 

On the other hand, Denver Nuggets Head Coach Mike Malone owns seven years of NBA head coaching experience. He’s spent the last five seasons with Denver, owning a 401-219 record. Last year, in his lone playoff coaching appearance, Malone and the Nuggets lost game seven to the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Semifinals. 

The overall resume and bevy of playoff experience lean in the Clippers favor. Not to mention, the two-time Finals MVP and NBA Champion Leonard. 

Another factor to watch is Denver’s lack of rest. The Nuggets finished off their game seven victory over the Jazz late Tuesday night. And this next series kicks off tonight at 9 pm ET on ESPN. Will Denver use this as momentum? They might early on, but a lack of rest will show up if this series proves lengthy. 

Advantage: Los Angeles Clippers

Final Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers in 5

Even if his supporting cast continues to struggle, it’s likely that Leonard will be able to grind his superior roster to another victory in this round. With the expectation that George bounces back in this series, the Western Conference Semifinals may be over quickly. Beverley should slow down Murray’s momentum, leaving Jokic alone to handle the superstars of Los Angeles. Expect the Clippers to make quicker work in this round. 

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.