2020 Playoff Preview: LA Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets
The Los Angeles Clippers vanquished Luka Doncic and the Mavs. The Denver Nuggets put to bed that frisky Utah team. Now the two teams are set to clash in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Clippers come into the series with relative rest and reprieve compared to the Nuggets, coming off a 4-2 win series win over the Mavs. Save a few epic moments from Doncic and some testy play from Marcus Morris, the Clippers are are just ticking along nicely in their pursuit of an NBA Championship.
On the other side of the floor, the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down against the Jazz following an 80-78 Game 7 victory. A rimmed out three from Mike Conley at the buzzer almost punished Denver for sloppy play down the stretch. It was an exhausting and rollercoaster series that featured Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell putting together video-game-like numbers, punctuated by a Nikola Jokić game-winning hook shot.
Denver will get minimal rest after winning one of the most exciting first-round playoff series in recent memory. Two days later, and the Nuggets must take on the powerhouse Clippers.
LA won the season series between the two teams 2-1, with their most recent victory coming in Orlando, where the Clips won by thirteen.
Jokić vs the Clippers’ big man committee
Jokić was terrific in the first round, posting averages of 31.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists against the two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Against the Clippers, the Joker will be salivating.
LA will have to roll out rim protection by committee, with big men Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris, Montrezl Harrell and JaMychal Green each taking turns trying to halt Denver’s star center. Jokić has historically played quite well against the Clippers.
Jokić averaged 19.3 points per game on just under 58 percent shooting, with 7.0 assists and 10.3 rebounds against LAC this season. With a bevy of post-moves, floor spacing, and elite passing, Jokić will give the Clippers all they can handle.
Kawhi and PG13 vs Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, and Jerami Grant
The ceiling for this Clippers team - on both ends of the floor - will be defined by its two superstar wings, Kawhi Leonad and Paul George.
Kawhi was the steady ship for LAC all season long, and against the Mavs he was excellent posting 32.8 points (on 53.8% shooting),10.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
George, on the other hand, struggled mightily in the first round. He shot just 27.3 percent from the floor in the first four games, before coming alive in Game 5 with 35 points on 12 of 18 from the field.
Both George and Leonard averaged 25 points per game against Denver this season, which will be a challenge for the Nuggets wings. Expect Jerami Grant, the recently returned Gary Harris and Torrey Craig to all spend time against the Clippers’ stars, where they will need to do their best.
On the other side of the ball, Denver's wing players will need to shoot well to spread the floor and keep LA’s defense honest. Grant shot 41 percent from deep in round one, while Craig converted his threes at a 38 percent clip, making the Jazz defenders pay for giving them good looks. These shots will be crucial to the Nuggets’ success this series, and will ensure that both Leonard and George are kept busy and aren’t having too much reach to cheat off their matchups to help bother Jokić in the post.
Jamal Murray vs Everyone
Jamal Murray’s series staline against Utah was something to behold - he poured in 31.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game.
Murray was paramount to the Nuggets’ 3-1 series comeback. Between Games 4 and 6, he posted 50 points, 42 points, and 50 points. Murray became just the second player to record 40 or more points, five or more rebounds and five or more assists in three straight playoff games.
The other player? Michael Jordan.
In Game 7, though, Murray struggled. He had 17 points on 7-21 shooting, and a collision with Joe Ingles may have led to a thigh injury. Despite being limited in that second half of Game 7, Murray is cleared to go for Game 1 against the Clippers.
The Canadian guard has had issues with the Clippers in the past. Murray averaged 13.3 points against LAC in the regular season, shooting 37.5 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from downtown. Whether being defended by Leonard, George, or potentially against a returning Patrick Beverley (who is questionable for Game 1), Murray will have a much harder time against the Clippers.
All eyes will be on Jokić, who should have the easiest match up for the Nuggets. But if Murray can be anything like he was against Utah, Denver has a real shot.
Denver Nuggets - Michael Porter Jr
One of the players who raised his game the most since arriving in Orlando, Michael Porter Jr could play a key role in this series. Porter Jr averaged 22 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, on a ridiculous 55.1% shooting that showed the athletic 22-year old can be hard to stop on the offensive end.
After being targeted by the Jazz on defense in the opening three games as a starter, Porter Jr was moved to the bench where he contributed 12 points and seven boards a night, giving the second unit a great boost of energy.
During the series, Porter Jr shot 44.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three-point range, providing a huge offensive punch off the bench, which will be key against the Clippers’ reserves.
Not only able to create his own shot with ease at 6”10, Porter Jr’s used that height and athleticism to have big rebounding games, with his 12 boards in Game 6 against Utah proving crucial to the Nuggets’ victory.
To add in even more proof that Porter Jr will have his fingerprints on this series, the Clippers passed on the former Missouri Tiger twice in the 2018 NBA Draft , which has the young rising star more than ready for LA.
We’ll see if Porter Jr can make the Clippers regret that decision shortly.
LA Clippers - Lou Williams
When it comes to X-factors for the Clippers, it’s hard to go past the three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams. Outside of Leonard and George, Williams is the most reliable option to create opportunities on offence.
Against the Nuggets this season, Lou Will has averaged 22 points per game on 52.4% shooting from the field and 48.3 percent from deep, while adding six assists per game. It will be interesting to see whether coach Mike Malone chooses to play Gary Harris off the bench, who had great effect in disrupting Utah’s own offensive microwave Jordan Clarkson.
A large reason why the Clippers scored 126.7 points per game in the series against the Mavericks, how well Williams is able to score will be key in supporting Leonard and George for a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
While the Nuggets’ comeback against Utah was fantastic theatre, and Murray has proved to be box-office viewing, the Clippers’ depth of scoring talent may be an insurmountable force for Denver to contain.
Jokić’s play will determine how well the Nuggets stay in this series, but the sheer quality of the Clippers will be too much for Denver’s defense.
Clippers in 6