During this time of year, NBA contests are often discounted as insignificant. The season is extremely long, teams are still incorporating new additions, coaches are finding what works, guys are rounding into game shape, and did I mention the season is extremely long?
If you do not completely crash and burn in November, you can still harbor legitimate playoff hopes.
While most games may not have serious implications, this one does. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that this particular matchup could make or break the Clippers' season.
Clipper Nation entered the season with soaring expectations that were immediately tempered, if not crushed, by an 0-4 start. Aside from Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, the various Los Angeles players appeared either sluggish, unprepared, disinterested or rusty—in the case of Baron Davis, all of the above.
The wind was taken out of the Clippers' sails and optimistic fans braced themselves for yet another disappointing year.
Just as everyone was preparing to write one more classic Clipper eulogy, Los Angeles put on a dominant performance thoroughly worthy of the preseason excitement, decimating the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-92. They finally played 48 minutes of solid basketball, effective on offense (52.5% FG, 8-16 3-pt) and stifling on defense (37.8% FG for OKC, 6-24 for Kevin Durant).
Perhaps most notably, Eric Bledsoe was brilliant replacing Baron Davis—he ran the team with aplomb, savvy and decisiveness, creating good shots for both himself and his teammates.
Suddenly, Los Angeles believes that the season is not lost, that the Clippers can salvage success. Therefore, this upcoming game against Denver is so momentous.
The Clippers need to prove that the win against the Thunder was not a fluke. They need to demonstrate that they can maintain a consistent level of inspiring play. They need to show that they have the right mentality. And they need to galvanize their fan base even more.
Playing the Nuggets in Denver is a perfect opportunity for Los Angeles to continue making strides. The Nuggets have won over 50 games the past three seasons, and though they are in a state of flux due to the Carmelo Anthony uncertainty, they are still a deep and talented squad.
A Clippers win tonight confirms that Los Angeles will have two teams fighting for playoff berths this year, and that Vinny Del Negro's team is going to be an active participant in the wild Western Conference.
A Clippers loss might pronounce them nothing more than a good-looking spoiler, a group that occasionally knocks off playoff teams but does not really have a chance of reaching the postseason itself.
The Clippers come to play again tonight. The speed and motor of Eric Bledsoe gives Chauncey Billups fits, opening up the offense for the entire team. Although Los Angeles will not be able to shut down Denver entirely, they will play enough team defense to get the victory.
Clippers 105, Nuggets 102.