PREGAME REPORT | JANUARY 1, 2013
Tip-off: 6:00 PM | PEPSI Center | Denver, CO | Game Notes »
Eric Patten Follow @EricPatten
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DENVER – The brisk Colorado winter in which the Clippers arrived at Pepsi Center for Tuesday morning’s shoot-around could not have been more juxtaposed to the team’s disposition of late.
They are effectively all sunshine, smiles and confidence heading into their New Year’s Day matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
And why not? Their 17-game winning streak is the longest in franchise history and the first of more than 14 games since the Celtics won 19-straight four years ago.
“We expect to win every time we step out there on the court,” small forward Caron Butler said. “A lot of teams say it, but we have a realistic shot every night whether it’s at home or on the road. As long as we keep our composure and play our style and our brand of basketball, we’ve got a shot.
“We’ve got a huge target on our back and we understand that. But we’ve got something extremely magical going on here and we want to keep that going.”
MVP candidate Chris Paul says the team’s confidence stems not as much from their winning streak, but its defense.
“I think the biggest confidence that our team has right now is the confidence in our defense,” Paul said at shoot-around. “Knowing that we have the ability to get stops. We showed that when we got down 19 or got down 10 or 15. I think that’s the biggest confidence is knowing that when we’re not playing up to our abilities, we know what we can go.”
It is the second meeting of the season between the Clippers (25-6) and Nuggets (17-5. Coincidentally, both have fallen on a holiday. The Clippers won 112-100 at Staples Center in the NBA’s Christmas Day finale.
They have won at Pepsi Center twice in a row since sustaining an 11-game losing streak in the Mile High City before the arrival of Paul last season.
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 107, Jazz 96: The Jazz refused to go away, but 24 combined points in the fourth quarter by Paul and Jamal Crawford helped the Clippers extend their franchise-record win streak to 17 Sunday night at Staples Center. Crawford and Paul scored 19 points apiece, while Butler managed a team-high 29 points, setting a franchise record with six 3-point makes without a miss.
“We made it a little hard on ourselves in the first half when we turned the ball over all over the place,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “But we found a way to get our composure a little bit; we didn’t turn it over as much. Obviously Caron [Butler] was hot tonight. I probably could have played him a few more minutes, but I thought he gave us a big boost offensively especially. He’s been guarding very well. DJ [DeAndre Jordan] down the stretch guarding, made his free throws had an impact along with Chris [Paul] and Jamal [Crawford]. We did some good things tonight.”
Grizzlies 81, Nuggets 72: The high-scoring Nuggets, who lead the league with 23 games topping the 100-point mark, were held to a season-low 72 points and Memphis scored 10 consecutive points Friday to break a 68-68 tie in the fourth quarter. It was the final game of a grueling first two months to the season for the Nuggets, which included 22 road games. Rudy Gay scored a game-high 19 points with six rebounds, while Andre Iguodala was one of three Nuggets with 12 points.
The benches. The Clippers and Nuggets have two of the top six scoring benches in the league. Denver’s group, which is led by wily center JaVale McGee and former Clipper Andre Miller, scores 39.2 points per game (sixth in the league) and shoots 48.0% from the field. The shooting percentage is due in large part to McGee, who is at 58.6% on the season and leads the league in dunks. Nuggets head coach George Karl said prior to the Clippers-Nuggets matchup on Christmas Day that he allows Miller, who is in the midst of his 14th season, input into what reserves are on the floor with him. Karl said it’s a matter of “trust” between himself and the veteran point guard.
The success of the Clippers bench is predicated more on the unit as a whole and in particular it defense. They average a league-best 42.2 points per game, but it’s generated mostly from the group’s ability to defend. They nab 4.9 steals per game, 0.9 more than the second best reserve unit (Dallas) and with Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe running the floor alongside a flat-out scorer like Crawford the Clippers bench is among the most explosive transition teams in the NBA.
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
Mile High. Despite the two-game winning streak in Denver, the Clippers are well aware that the Nuggets are dangerous at home. They are 9-1 at home with victories over the Spurs and Grizzlies in the last two weeks.
Blake Griffin, who has averaged 18.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists in nine-career games versus the Nuggets, talked about what makes Denver so successful at home. “I mean, they’re a good team to start with,” Griffin said. “They play well there. They play off the crowd.”
Dunkers. The Clippers and Nuggets are the top two teams in the NBA in dunks. Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Matt Barnes have 168 combined, while McGee, Iguodala and Kenneth Faried are the top trio in the league with 175. Likewise, both teams thrive in transition, converting turnovers into easy baskets.
Paul said that’s definitely something the Clippers will have to be aware of Tuesday night. “You’ve got to control the pace and the tempo. Run when you have the opportunity, but understand that they’re the best at it. The best thing is to try and make them take the ball out of the net because if you’re turning it over they’re probably faster than we are.”
The Clippers are 5-4 all time on New Year’s Day, including a three-game winning streak… There have only been nine winning streaks 17 games or longer since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976… Last season, the Clippers won the season series against Nuggets, 3-1. Including their Christmas Day victory over Denver at Staples Center, the Clippers have won six of their last seven games in the series… Denver has faced the second toughest schedule in the NBA. Nuggets opponents through 32 games have a winning percentage of .533, second only to the New Orleans Hornets… The Nuggets lead the league in rebounding and offensive rebounding.
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