Preview: Denver Nuggets look to win season series against Clippers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

As the 2020-21 NBA regular season approaches the final stretch run, the Denver Nuggets are making a late push up the standings in the Western Conference.

A 122-111 victory over the Toronto Raptors Thursday stretched Denver’s winning streak to four games and presented the Nuggets with an opportunity to pass the LA Clippers in the standings with a win Saturday night.

MORE: Takeaways from win over Raptors

Denver (42-21) received 48 points from its second unit and had seven players score in double figures against Toronto, while Michael Porter Jr. (23 points) continued to grow into his new role as the second option on offense.

LA (43-21) has lost two straight games while dealing with a plethora of injuries, including one suffered by Kawhi Leonard, which has kept him out of action since April 18. Patrick Beverley and Serge Ibaka have also missed extended time due to injuries as of late.

Denver and LA split the first two matchups of the season series, with Saturday’s contest serving as the tiebreaker.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, PJ Dozier, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT ACL SURGERY. OUT.

MONTE MORRIS – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. OUT.

WILL BARTON III – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. OUT.

ZEKE NNAJI - LEFT ANKLE SPRAIN. QUESTIONABLE.

TUNE-IN: 8 p.m. MT, ESPN and 950AM

Key matchup: Michael Porter Jr. vs. Paul George

Few players are on a hotter streak than Porter Jr., who just wrapped up the best month of his brief NBA career. The 22-year-old forward averaged 23.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on 55.3 percent shooting from the field and 42.5 percent from beyond the arc in April.

Since Jamal Murray was lost for the season due to a left ACL injury suffered on April 11, Porter Jr. has scored at least 21 points in all but one game. As Denver’s second option on offense, the second-year forward has expanded his game and made the most of his opportunity.

For the Clippers, Paul George has assumed a larger role with Leonard out as of late, averaging 28.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game in his last 10 contests. The 30-year-old has thrived in this role, scoring 30+ points seven times in April. Denver will need to lock in defensively against the versatile scoring forward Saturday.

Defend the 3-point line

The Clippers have had a high-powered offensive attack this season, ranking second in offensive rating up to this point. A lot of that power has been coming from beyond the arc. It wouldn’t be too drastic to consider the 2020-21 Clippers to be one of, if not the best 3-point shooting team in NBA history.

Excluding garbage time, LA has hit a staggering 42.4 percent of its 3-point attempts this season, which is more than two percentage points better than the second-ranked Utah Jazz.

For the Nuggets, this could spell serious trouble as their defense has been vulnerable from beyond the arc this season. Opponents have attempted 38 percent of their shot attempts from the 3-point line against Denver this season, which puts Denver 23rd in the league in that aspect.

If the Clippers get plenty of quality looks from deep Thursday night, Denver’s defense will be in trouble, as LA hasn’t struggled to convert from downtown this season.

Second unit production

As mentioned earlier, Denver’s second unit played a key role in Thursday’s victory over Toronto. Michael Malone’s squad has had to make several changes to the rotation in recent weeks due to injuries and additions, but recently Malone has settled on a four-man rotation off the bench in Austin Rivers, Shaq Harrison, JaMychal Green, and Paul Millsap, with JaVale McGee occasionally spotting one of the veteran forwards in the frontcourt.

MORE: Millsap, Green stabilize second unit

Denver’s second unit has thrived as of late because of lockdown defense, which will be put to the test Saturday against the Clippers’ second unit.

Throughout the season, LA’s bench has ranked fifth in points per game, and even with the recent injuries, the Clippers have received quality production from players such as Luke Kennard, Rajon Rondo, and Nicolas Batum.

If Denver’s bench can hang in against LA’s, it will give Nikola Jokić and Porter Jr. a chance to lead the Nuggets’ starters against George and the Clippers’ opening group.

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