L.A. Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

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L.A. Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
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The Los Angeles Clippers haven't lost since 2012.

Yeah, that's not that impressive. The fact that they haven't lost since November of 2012, however, is.

Chris Paul and the Clippers will put their 17-game winning streak on the line when they go up against the Denver Nuggets on New Year's Day.

These two teams met exactly one week ago in Los Angeles, and the Clippers came away with a 112-100 victory, thus securing their 14th straight win.

Undoubtedly, Denver isn't going to be too keen at the idea of handing Los Angeles its 18th consecutive win as well, especially at home. 

Will the Nuggets be able to rip the Clippers down from their current pedestal, or is Los Angeles destined to scorch through yet another opponent?

The NBA promises to be an exciting place in 2013, and this particular matchup will prove to be no exception.

Time: Tuesday, January 1, 9 p.m. EST

TV: NBATV

Records: Denver Nuggets (17-15) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (21-6)

Betting Line: Even

 

Injuries (via CBSSports.com)

Nuggets: Wilson Chandler (hip, groin), out; Julyan Stone (hip), out.

Clippers: Chauncey Billups (foot), out; Grant Hill (knee), out; Trey Thompkins (knee), out.

 

Key Storyline: Will the Clippers ever lose again?

The Nuggets have already fell victim to the Clippers during their winning streak.

Alright, I exaggerate, but Los Angeles is riding the coattails of a monumental 17-game winning streak. 

During this time, the Clippers have faced opponents that have combined for a 207-282 record. While that little factoid may lessen the regard you hold this winning streak in, keep in mind that the Miami Heat couldn't put away the Milwaukee Bucks or Detroit Pistons and struggled to defeat the Orlando Magic.

Translation?

Good teams can play poor basketball; they can lose to anyone at any time. Since November 26, 2012, though, the Clippers haven't. So let's not attempt to downplay the significance of this streak.

And let's not attempt to pretend like Denver isn't going to come out gunning for this Los Angeles team, because it will. The Clippers have a target on their back. No team wants to help them extend their impressive stretch of dominance, least of all a team that's playing on its own turf.

That said, the Clippers haven't proved easy to beat. Of their 17 wins, 11 have come by double-digit point margins.

As serious as Los Angeles has taken its streak, though, it must be careful not to discredit Denver. The Nuggets are just two games over .500, but they boast some of the best talent in the league and are capable of beating any team they face at any given time.

Does one of those teams include the Clippers, and is one of those times New Year's night? Or will the Clippers begin 2013 the way they ended 2012—by winning?

We'll know soon enough.

 

Key Matchup: Chris Paul, PG, Clippers vs. Ty Lawson, PG, Nuggets

Paul has been lighting it up this season.

This one is going to be fun.

Paul is playing at an MVP-caliber pace for the Clippers. He's scoring 16.3 points per game, is second in the league with 9.4 assists per contest and leads the Association in steals with 2.7 a night.

As if that's not enough, Paul (via 82games.com) is holding opposing point guards to a PER of 11.2 per 48 minutes. And that's simply incredible.

At times, Paul's contributions may not look like much. After all, some of his numbers are extremely modest. But don't kid yourself by trying to believe he isn't everything to the Clippers. The enormity of their current success would be inconceivable if he weren't on the roster.

Which means Ty Lawson is going to have his hands full.

Lawson has struggled thus far to score this season. Can he regain his touch against the Clippers?

After signing a semi-lucrative extension, Lawsons hasn't exactly played up to snuff. 

With a bevy of additional weapons at his disposal, a slight decrease in scoring would have been acceptable, yet his point totals have dipped quite a bit. After averaging 16.4 points per game last season, he's at 13.6 for this year.

Lawson is also shooting a career-worst from the field overall (40.8 percent) and three-point range (30.8 percent). 

That said, his defense has been sensational. Not only is he grabbing a career-best 1.6 steals per game, but (via 82games.com) he's holding a opposing point men to a PER of 12.4 per 48 minutes.

Though Paul isn't just any opposing point guard, if Lawson can stay up on him, limit his dishes in transition and clog his passing lanes, the Clippers' streak could come to an end.

If he can't do either of the aforementioned three, though, then it's destined to be a long night for the Nuggets.

 

X-Factors

DeAndre Jordan, C, Clippers

Los Angeles needs a big night from Jordan.

DeAndre Jordan is going to have his hands full in Denver.

The Clippers don't play any true big men outside of Jordan consistently. Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins receive some minutes, but neither get more than 12.5 a game.

Why is that significant?

Because Denver has one of the deepest frontlines in the league. Not only will Jordan be tasked with providing help defense as Blake Griffin goes up against Kenneth Faried, but he has to worry about JaVale McGee coming off the bench.

McGee has been sensational this season, and he, along with Faried and even Kosta Koufos, will be headache for Los Angeles in the low post. Not only can they all perform well on both sides of the floor, but they're huge reasons why the Nuggets are the NBA's leading team in boards hoarded per contest, with 46.2.

Griffin is a notoriously poor defender, and both Hollins and Turiaf—while diligent defenders—aren't anything special. This means the Clippers are going to need a big night defensively from the towering Jordan.

If he can help limit Denver's second chance opportunities while providing an impenetrable presence in the post. Los Angeles' quest to lay claim to a 18th straight victory becomes that much more feasible.

 

Danilo Gallinari, SF, Denver Nuggets

Denver doesn't care how Gallo scores, just so long as he scores.

If there is a weakness in Los Angeles' defensive sets right now, it's on the perimeter.

The Clippers are ranked 14th in the league (per teamrankings.com) in points from deep balls allowed a night. Yes, those 21.2 points they relinquish from beyond the arc still put them in the top half of the league, but nonetheless, it's their weakest spot right now.

Enter Danilo Gallinari.

Though Gallo isn't Denver's most efficient three-point shooter, he is its most lethal.

At present, Gallinari leads the Nuggets with 15.9 points per contest. Scary? No, and neither is his 34 percent conversion rate from behind the rainbow.

That said, when the Italian gets it going, he can be hard to stop; once he catches fire, Denver's offense is usually set to coast.

For the Nuggets to put an end to Los Angeles' stretch of dominance, they will need one of those streaky nights from their prized scorer—the kind of night that single-handedly beats an opposing defense into submission.

 

Depth Charts

Clippers

Depth chart via ESPN.com.

 

Nuggets

Depth chart via ESPN.com.

 

Prediction

I've had nothing but faith in the Nuggets all season long, yet time and time again, they continue to let me and the rest of their advocates down.

Denver is arguably the deepest team in the league—unless the Clippers have anything to say about it—yet it continues to struggle to develop offensive continuity and defensive competency.

The Clippers, on the other hand, are facing no such quandaries. Only two teams in the league are in the top five of both defensive and offensive efficiency. The San Antonio Spurs are one, and the Clippers are the other.

Simply put, Paul's crew is not one to be trifled with. He leads an equally deep entity, one that boasts the highest-scoring bench in the Association.

Which team will begin 2013 with a victory?

Submit Vote vote to see results

If there were ever a time for the Nuggets to get hot, now would be that time. Yet we've been waiting for their offense to take consistent flight all season, and nothing has come of it. That, coupled with the fact that they've struggled against strong defensive teams, leaves me hard-pressed to believe they'll take down the Clippers—even if they are in Denver.

Plus, it doesn't hurt that—stats aside—Los Angeles is on fire. Anything the Clippers have wanted to do, they've been able to do.

And after watching them extensively over this winning streak and the course of the entire season, I just wouldn't feel right voting against their collective two-way prowess in this one.

Yes, the Clippers are going to cool off. We saw signs of said occasion against the Utah Jazz.

But the time to cool off isn't now.

Expect to see the Clippers emerge from the Pepsi Center victorious—for the 18th straight time.

Clippers 108, Nuggets 101


*All stats in this article are accurate as of December 31, 2012.

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