Clippers look for revenge on Nuggets
The Los Angeles Clippers may have taken the Denver Nuggets lightly in the playoffs a few months ago, which could have contributed to a stunning collapse and a second-round exit for a team many thought was ready to compete for a title.
It’s doubtful Los Angeles will make the same mistake again Friday night in Denver.
The Clippers and Nuggets meet in the last of a five-game Christmas Day slate, and it comes with the wounds still fresh from Denver’s improbable comeback in September.
L.A. led the series 3-1 and had a double-digit lead in the second half of Game 5. The Nuggets clawed their way back to win that game, and then rallied again in Game 6 before finishing the upset in Game 7.
Although that was only three months ago, the teams have made some significant changes.
JaMychal Green left the Clippers and signed with Denver and L.A. parted ways with coach Doc Rivers, replacing him with assistant coach Tyronn Lue. L.A. also added Serge Ibaka, Luke Kennard and Nicolas Batum. The tweaked roster got off to a good start with a 116-109 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.
The Clippers were led by Paul George (33 points) and Kawhi Leonard (26 points) against the Lakers and needed to recover from blowing a 22-point lead to win.
“We got a lot more work to do to continue to keep building getting better,” Lue said. “It’s going to be a process.”
The Nuggets are still working in a few key pieces to the roster, and it showed at times in a 124-122 overtime home loss to Sacramento on Wednesday. Green (left calf strain) didn’t play and Jamal Murray, who elevated his game in the playoff bubble, had only nine points before fouling out.
The Nuggets got a triple-double from Nikola Jokic (29 points 15 rebounds, 14 assists) and strong offensive games from Michael Porter Jr. (24 points) and Will Barton (16), but the team lost focus in the second half and at the end of overtime.
The hangover from a deeper postseason run might have been a factor, but head coach Michael Malone said after the game that shouldn’t factor in this season.
“As great as last season was, I’m going to keep saying this, that season is over,” Malone said. “That’s a different team. Yes we have the core back. We have seven new players. As great as it was to win our division, to get to the Western Conference Finals, to come back from two 3-1 deficits, starting tonight, who cares? That’s over.”
Wednesday night Porter got the start over Barton, who didn’t play in Orlando due to a nagging knee injury. But Barton is happy for Porter’s success and is one of his biggest cheerleaders.
“Me and him talk all the time, got a good relationship, we text all the time,” Barton said. “Mike’s going to be a hell of a player. He talks to me, I talk to him, and we just try to keep boosting each other’s confidence.”