Preview: Denver Nuggets seek to rebound vs. Los Angeles Clippers
It has been just 100 days since the Nuggets made history against the Los Angeles Clippers, becoming the first team ever to come back from 3-1series deficits twice to advance to the conference finals. Due to the short turnaround, it is easy to imagine there are emotions that still linger from that series from both teams.
“Yeah it does seem like yesterday since we played the Clippers and it’s a little too soon to be playing them again if you ask me, but it is what is and we’re prepared for them,” Paul Millsap said during his Christmas Eve media availability.
Millsap’s intensity was one of the turning points for the Nuggets against Los Angeles as his refusal to back down from a challenge from Marcus Morris Sr. in Game 5 fired up his teammates. Entering Friday’s Christmas primetime matchup, both teams have plenty to prove.
For the Nuggets, getting off to a good start has been crucial in the past as they’ve gone 7-3 and 9-1 after their first 10 games in the last two seasons. The Clippers will want to prove they are legitimate contenders after last year’s disappointment, especially against the team that sparked them to make considerable changes in the offseason.
“We know we’ll have our hands full. The Clippers are a really good basketball team and I’m sure they have that 3-1 deficit come-from-behind victory fresh in their minds and that will be motivation for them,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone explained. “It’s just one game last night [the loss to the Kings] and tomorrow night is a new challenge.”
Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr. Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić
JaMychal Green: Left calf strain.
Greg Whittington: Left calf strain.
Jamal Murray: Left calf tightness
Tune in: 8:30 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE, ESPN
Here are the storylines to watch for in Friday’s game:
Key matchup: Kawhi Leonard vs. Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. was an Opening Night starter against the Kings and made a positive impact despite the end result. The second-year forward dropped 24 points, five boards and came up with three timely blocks against Sacramento. As solid as Porter Jr. was in his matchup against Harrison Barnes, going up against Kawhi Leonard, a perennial MVP candidate, is an entirely different type of challenge. Leonard is one of the few NBA superstars who can be equally dominant on both ends of the floor and will be a difficult matchup for Porter Jr.
Still, this gives the Mizzou product a chance to showcase himself on one of the biggest nights of the season. As he showed in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Clippers, he isn’t afraid of big moments.
Owning the glass
The Nuggets were outrebounded by eight against the Kings and surrendered 17 offensive boards. Malone made it clear Thursday he doesn’t want a repeat performance.
“Last year we were 12-17 when we were outrebounded,” Malone said. “We have long been a very effective offensive rebounding team, but our defensive rebounding is not where it needs to be and that was evident last night [against the Kings].”
Although the Clippers were largely in control against the Lakers Tuesday, one area where they conceded the edge was on the boards – allowing a 45-40 advantage to their in-arena rivals.
Blue Arrow Time?
Jamal Murray was an all-around force against the Clippers in the Western Conference semis, averaging 22.6 points, 6.4 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.3 while shooting a sizzling 43.8 percent from downtown. If he is able to recapture the magic from those performances, it should bode well for the Nuggets.
Murray never got it going in the season opener, shooting 1 of 9 against the Kings. His task will likely get tougher Friday as the Clippers will likely throw a variety of different defensive looks, alternating among Patrick Beverley, Paul George, and Leonard. Fortunately for the Nuggets, he’s excelled in similar circumstances in the playoffs.