Nuggets exhale in advance of Christmas game in L.A.

Road game against the Clippers opens stretch of four games in five nights
by Aaron Lopez

After a light Sunday practice, Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari spent some extra time on the Pepsi Center practice court before heading home for an Italian meal with his family.

Nuggets coach George Karl, dressed in Pittsburgh Steelers warmups, left the arena to watch his favorite football team try to keep its playoff hopes alive and then finish his holiday shopping.

Nearing the end of their difficult opening two-month schedule, Denver took a moment to exhale and enjoy some time off in advance of their Christmas Day road game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We’ll let them enjoy the Christmas spirit for a couple days before we hit them with the hammer of the road again,” Karl said.

The Nuggets (15-13) play three of their final four games of December on the road before starting a stretch of 15 of 18 at Pepsi Center, where they are an NBA-best 8-1.

Denver won its fifth straight home game Saturday, beating the Charlotte Bobcats 110-88. They did it with another impressive night in the paint. Mixing transition dunks and layups with aggressive drives and interior passing, the Nuggets compiled an NBA season-high 78 points in the paint.

Denver, the NBA leader in paint points, has the three highest single-game totals in the lane this season. More importantly for Karl, the Nuggets are doing it with more speed and better efficiency.

“The pace has been getting better for us,” Karl said. “There seems to be a little more wear and tear on the other team as the game goes on. There’s a little more fatigue. They’re a step slow and their defensive cloggings has breakdowns in it. We want to keep it going. With our depth, I think we can keep it going.”

In keeping with the early season theme of facing tough opponents, Denver faces a Clippers team that extended its winning streak to 13 games with a victory at Phoenix on Sunday night.

Like the Nuggets, the Clippers have tremendous depth. Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford leads a second unit that also features veterans Matt Barnes, Eric Bledsoe and Lamar Odom.

“They are playing really well,” Gallinari said. “They have won 12 straight. We know what they have in (All-Star point guard) Chris Paul and how he makes all of the other players around him better. It will be a good challenge for us and we’ll be ready for them.”

The game in Los Angeles is the first of four games in five nights for the Nuggets. They will face the Los Angeles Lakers at home Wednesday before ending the month with back-to-back road games at Dallas and Memphis on Friday and Saturday.


WHEN: 8:30 p.m. MT
WHERE: Staples Center, Los Angeles
TV; RADIO: Altitude, ESPN; 104.3 FM, AM-950


F Danilo Gallinari
F Kenneth Faried
C Kosta Koufos
G Andre Iguodala
G Ty Lawson

F Caron Butler
F Blake Griffin
C DeAndre Jordan
G Willie Green
G Chris Paul

Lawson (Achilles' tendon) is probable; Wilson Chandler (hip) and Julyan Stone (hip) are out.
LOS ANGELES: Chauncey Billups (foot), Grant Hill and Trey Thompkins are out.

The Nuggets have won 14 of the last 22 games overall against the Clippers since 2006-07, with six of the eight losses coming on the road in Los Angeles … Denver has played the Clippers solidly in Los Angeles in recent years, having gone 5-6 against the Clip-joint at STAPLES Center over the past six seasons … Denver has claimed five season series wins over Los Angeles in the last eight seasons … The 2010-11 season marked the first 2-2 series split between these teams since the 2003-04 season, not to mention only the fourth since 1993-94 … The Nuggets currently own an all-time winning percentage of .553 (83-67) against the Clippers, which stands as the best mark for Denver against any opponent in the NBA with at least 100 meetings between them.