The Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers are the cream of the league at this point. There is a mix of teams behind them who are just outside of that elite group.
Denver might be the best of those non-elite teams. The Nuggets have top-five offense and are among the fastest teams in the league.
On Thursday, they will test how close they are to the upper echelon when the Clippers come to town. They are closer than you might think, especially at home, where the Nuggets have only lost three times this season.
Blake Griffin has arguably been the Clippers’ steadiest player. He’s only missed two games, and apart from a three-game stretch when the year turned over, he hasn’t really had a bad string of games. Year three is often a key development year, and this season has seen Blake Griffin establish himself as an elite player. He’s become a more reliable scorer thanks to improvements in his mid-range jumper and free-throw shooting. He’s becoming a better passer and has improved dramatically when it comes to forcing turnovers. He still fouls too much, but that and participating in the dunk contest are among the few valid shortcomings left for Griffin. Despite his solid play, he has only been average against Denver this season, and in a January loss, he was downright bad, battling foul trouble and using 11 shots to get 12 points. He’ll need to play more up to his standards for the Clippers to win.
Griffin will match up with the Manimal: Kenneth Faried. In his second year, Faried has somewhat less efficient playing bigger minutes, but he fills his role: solid finisher, shot blocker and spectacular rebounder. Faried has had a bad run as of late, including suffering a nasty elbow from Metta World Peace. He particularly struggled against Oklahoma City, scoring just 4 points on 7 shots with a mere 4 rebounds in 18 minutes. He also struggled in both games against the Clippers. It’s interesting to think that Griffin and Faried are nullifying one another, but I think they’re each due for big games.
What to Watch For
Watch the action near the rim. The Clippers are fourth in the league in shooting percentage both at the rim and from 3 to 9 feet. They have plenty of good finishers, most notably Blake Griffin, who shoots 75% at the rim. But Denver is one of the best teams in the league at defending the rim. Teams shoot just 60% at the rim against the Nuggets, below the league average of 64%. The center tandem of Kosta Koufos and Javale McGee has been scary defensively in the paint, especially McGee. When he’s not retweeting himself, McGee is a ferocious shot blocker, averaging two swats a game in just 19 minutes. It makes you think—McGee must be a huge headcase for George Karl to leave such a good shot blocker on the bench.
The other battle near the rim will be on the boards. The Clippers and the Nuggets are both excellent offensive rebounding teams. But they’re also terrible defensive rebounding teams. Expect a lot of putbacks from DeAndre Jordan and JaVale McGee.
Why Else to Watch
The Clippers are one of the best teams in the league, but the Nuggets have been nearly unbeatable in Denver. Let’s see if the Clippers can come out of the Rockies with a win.
How to Watch
TNT, 10:30 p.m. eastern
League Pass Bonus
Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat, Friday, 8 p.m. eastern. Indiana looks to complete a three-game season sweep of Miami in this key eastern conference matchup.