There may be more important games between the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets to come, but the home team sent an early message in a potential playoff preview.
Denver defeated Los Angeles 114-104 on Sunday at Pepsi Center, improving to 27-12 on the season. Nikola Jokic led the way with an impressive performance, helping his team overcome a surprising loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers the last time out.
As for the Clippers, they are 27-13 after their two-game winning streak came to an end with Paul George sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Notable Player Stats
- DEN C Nikola Jokic: 20 points, 15 rebounds and six assists
- DEN PG Jamal Murray: 19 points, four rebounds and two assists
- DEN SG Gary Harris: 15 points, three rebounds, three steals and two assists
- LAC F Kawhi Leonard: 30 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals
- LAC SG Lou Williams: 26 points, four rebounds and four assists
- LAC F Montrezl Harrell: 25 points, eight rebounds and two blocks
Nuggets Seize Golden Opportunity with Balanced Attack
The Western Conference is a minefield behind the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.
Entering this contest, the Nuggets, Clippers, Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets were all within a half-game of each other for seeds Nos. 2 through 5. Every head-to-head showdown carries significant weight, and Denver could use home-court advantage seeing how it is 16-5 at Pepsi Center this season.
That could prove to be the difference against superstars such as Kawhi Leonard, George, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Donovan Mitchell, and the Nuggets played like there was plenty on the line against Los Angeles.
Even with Jokic leading the way, the Nuggets' best chance to counter stars such as Leonard is with a balanced attack. That was exactly what was on display Sunday even with Paul Millsap sidelined by a knee injury.
Jokic did what he typically does as a matchup nightmare, mixing in three-pointers, low-post moves and a ready willingness to distribute from the blocks when the Clippers sent additional attention his direction. He was far from a one-man show, though, as nine Nuggets scored with seven finishing in double figures.
Denver controlled much of the game with Gary Harris hitting threes, Jamal Murray attacking and getting to the line and Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris providing a spark off the bench to push back any comeback attempts. The cushion so many offensive contributors created was key to holding off Los Angeles' final charge down the stretch.
It was the type of well-rounded performance the Nuggets will need to beat a team like the Clippers come April or May, especially when George is healthy.
Clippers Don't Have Enough Firepower Without Paul George
Los Angeles had enough weapons to handle the overmatched Golden State Warriors on Friday with George sidelined by a hamstring injury, but going up against a playoff team in a hostile environment was a different story.
George is a go-to option on offense as someone who can attack the basket and hit from three-point range, but his status as a four-time All-Defensive selection separates him from most of the league.
Most teams couldn't afford to miss someone like that for any length of time, although the Clippers are not most teams with arguably a better version of that skill set in Leonard. The reigning Finals MVP carried the offense with 36 points against the Warriors and added 30 more Sunday, but the visitors were in comeback mode throughout.
Even with solid performances from Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, a comeback wasn't going to happen with the team shooting 8-of-33 (24.2 percent) from deep and nobody else in double figures. The Nuggets were able to stay home on perimeter shooters without George forcing defenders to collapse, and they challenged the Clippers on the perimeter.
Denver had more firepower up and down the lineup, and it showed in the result.
The Clippers host the Cavaliers on Tuesday, while the Nuggets host the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.