PREGAME REPORT | MARCH 7, 2013

 



Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. PST | Pepsi Center | Denver, CO | Game Notes »

                       

RAFAEL GUERRERO

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With just a handful of games separating the No. 2 and the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, Thursday night’s game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets holds a lot of importance in playoff positioning with a little more than a month left in the NBA regular season.

The Clippers (44-19) are currently planted in the No. 3 spot, 1.5 games back of the Thunder for the second seed but just 3.5 up on the Nuggets (40-22) in the five seed.        

The Nuggets are in the midst of a six-game winning streak and have scored home victories over the Lakers, Thunder and Atlanta Hawks during that stretch. They have won four of those six games by seven points or more.

“This is one of the tougher back-to-backs that everybody faces,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “They are a good team, play extremely fast and are playing really well right now.”

This will be the Clippers 16th back-to-back of the season. They are 10-5 in the second game of back-to-backs and have been particularly good on the road, going 7-3 in those games away from Staples Center.

LAST TIME OUT

Clippers 117, Bucks 101. The night belonged to Blake Griffin who recorded his third career triple-double and hammered down three highlight-reel dunks in the process.

“It’s something, obviously, that he’s capable of doing,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I thought his game was under control and he was very productive in 32 minutes.”

Griffin had 23 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high 11 assists as the Clippers swept the season series from the Bucks for the first time since the 2006-07 season.

Jamal Crawford scored a game-high 25 points, marking the fourth consecutive game he has gone for 20-plus points. Matt Barnes added 20, hitting 6-of-11 from 3-point range in a game the Clippers blew open in the final period after the Bucks had closed to within five.

Nuggets 120, Kings 113. The Nuggets outscored the Kings, 36-29, in the third quarter and that proved to be the difference. The visiting Nuggets led by as many as 14 points in the period but the Kings cut it to seven to start the fourth thanks to timely 3-pointers and free throws.

But the Nuggets squashed any hopes of a comeback with a stellar final 12 minutes as they went 15-for-21 from the field in the fourth. The win gave the Nuggets their third consecutive victory away from Denver and sixth straight overall.

Ty Lawson led the Nuggets with 24 points on 8-for-16 shooting and dished out seven assists. Danilo Gallinari chipped in with 23 points in 36 minutes and was brutally efficient from beyond the arc, hitting 5-of-6 from distance. As a team, the Nuggets were 8-for-16 on their 3-pointers.

NOTEWORTHY MATCHUP

Chris Paul vs. Ty Lawson. One night after dealing with the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, the Clippers will have to contend with Lawson who took home the honors in the Western Conference.

He led the Nuggets to three wins last week, averaging 21 points, seven assists and 1.7 steals in that stretch. He put an exclamation point on the week when he hit a game-winning jumper with 0.2 seconds left to beat the Thunder, 105-103, on March 1. In his last 24 games, Lawson is averaging 20.8 points, 7.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game and shooting 49.6% from the field and 40% on his 3-pointers.

Paul, who named the West’s Player of the Month in December, has not been too shabby himself in the past 10 days. He is averaging 17.4 points and 10.6 assists in the last five games, with the Clippers winning four of those contests.

“I will go to war with Chris any day of the week,” Crawford said. “He’s so scrappy. Even more than his talent and work ethic, his scrappiness is probably his number one quality.”

TWO THINGS TO WATCH

Rocky Mountain Low. Denver has historically boasted one of the league’s best and formidable home-court advantages and this season has been no exception. The Nuggets are an NBA-best 27-3 this year at the Pepsi Center and have won 11 straight at home.

The Clippers know the difficulties of playing in Denver all too well, having lost their previous game there 92-78 on New Year’s Day. The Nuggets are 13-2 against the Clippers in Denver since the 2006-07 season.

“Denver is obviously a tough team, especially at home,” Griffin said. “It’s tough and they play an up-tempo game and coming off a back-to-back, that’s going to be a tough game. We have to really lock in and establish ourselves early in the game and make sure that we load up on transition defense.”

Teams are 2-7 when traveling to Denver for the second night of a back-to-back this season and 8-44 in those situations since 2009-10.

Capitalizing on Turnovers and Controlling the Pace. The Clippers and Nuggets rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the NBA respectively in points off turnovers. The Clippers were averaging 19.8 points off turnovers prior to Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee with the Nuggets right behind at 19.5 points per game.

The Nuggets also boast a 27-5 record this season when scoring more points off turnovers than their opponents while the Clippers are 34-6 in those instances after their win over Milwaukee.

The pace will be another important factor as the Nuggets are leading the league in fast break points, averaging 19.7 per game. The Clippers understand that slowing down the Nuggets offense will be important if they hope to walk out of Denver with a win.

“We will probably want to change the pace and put the ball inside a little more,” Clippers forward Lamar Odom said. “We will want to get on the offensive glass so that we can control the tempo.”

NOTES

Clippers guard Chauncey Billups, Denver native, appeared in 259 regular season games in five seasons (’98-00, ’08-11) for the Nuggets. He averaged 16.9 points and 5.3 assists per game... The Clippers are currently on a five-game road winning streak. Their last loss away from Staples Center came Feb. 8 against the Miami Heat…The Nuggets lead the all-time series against the Clippers with an 83-67 record, their best mark against any opponent in the NBA with at least 100 meetings…Thursday’s game will be the final regular season meeting between the two teams.