Denver Nuggets: 3 Keys to Beating the LA Clippers

Denver Nuggets(Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
Denver Nuggets(Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Denver Nuggets are back at it on Thursday night at Pepsi Center, welcoming the Los Angeles Clippers.

There’s not a lot of big picture revelation that we can make with the Denver Nuggets at this point in the season.  At nearly the halfway mark, Denver enjoys a one game lead over the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference.  If we had to come up with a point of concern for this Denver team it’s that they’ve lost to (arguably) the current top two teams in the league (Milwaukee Bucks, Houston Rockets) both times they’ve faced each team.

The Nuggets have checked all the boxes so far, notching wins against top teams, tough road wins and fighting through a bevy of injuries.  The Bucks and Rockets though have presented a roadblock that the Nuggets have had difficulty overcoming.

Beyond that, the team that gives Denver the most trouble this season just may be the Los Angeles Clippers.  Having split the first two meetings, including a blowout loss on December 22nd in LA, this game looms big in the season series.  As tight as the West is, any advantage is valuable.

So, why do the Clippers present such a problem and what should the Nuggets be doing to counter that?

First:  Limit three point shooting.  In that December blowout loss, the Nuggets let Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris to shoot 80% combined from deep.  Since late-November, when the Nuggets were the top 3-point defense in the league, they’ve slid drastically, now sitting 21st.  It’s an achilles to an otherwise strong defensive effort for the first half of the season.  The absence of Paul Millsap and Gary Harris can shoulder part of the responsibility but there’s questions around defensive effort lately as well.  We know that often defense is simply a matter of will.  The Nuggets have given strong but inconsistent effort on the defensive end.  Often, it looks like they are itching to revert to the run-and-gun, outscore everyone version of the team that finished last season.  That’s a viable tactic but requires scoring that the Nuggets have also shown inconsistency with.  Chasing the Clippers off of the three-point line will alleviate a ton of Denver’s stress.

Next:  Protect the basketball.  Denver sits in the middle-of-the-pack in team turnovers.  Their 14.7 turns/gm mark is an improvement over last season (15.0) but not much of one. It is an area that has concerned Nuggets fans and coaches for a while.  One place the Nuggets can make immediate improvement with ball security is in clamping down on the “highlight” plays.  While Jamal Murray‘s personal turnover numbers have improved drastically, he is still prone to making a flashy play when a sensible one will do.  Behind-the-back passes bring fans out of their seats but they are low percentage and the risk far outweighs the reward, particularly for a team with a tenuous hold on first place in the West. We give Nikola Jokic a wide berth because his playmaking ability is off the charts but if there’s a place in his game that can stand some improvement it is with turnovers.  Jokic again led the Nuggets with three turnovers in Miami.  It’s a thing he’s got to get under control but more importantly, the Nuggets need to figure out.

Last: What about Boban?  We have what could previously be described as a Serbian novelty player on our roster in Jokic.  As he’s established himself as a legitimate player, the novelty label has fallen off and Jokic is considered one of the best, young players in the game.  For the Clippers, that guy is Boban Marjanovic.  Though he averages only 10 minutes per game, he seems to relish matchups with the Denver Nuggets and has been known to tear us up.  There aren’t a whole lot of guys in the league that can be imposing to the 7′ 250lb. Jokic but Boban at 7’3″ and 290lb. is a load for anyone. In the Nuggets season-opening matchup with the Clippers, Marjanovic had 18 points and 8 rebounds.  He shot 75% from the floor and was 6-for-6 from the free throw line. In the December 22 blowout win, Boban only played 8 minutes but still managed 50% from the floor and netting six points.  He gives friend and countryman Jokic fits with the pick-and-roll and always seems to have just enough to keep the Clippers in-contact with the Nuggets.

Word from Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone that Will Barton‘s return is imminent is welcome, with Barton back, the Nuggets return to their opening-day roster.  No word on Isaiah Thomas or Michael Porter Jr.  Jarred Vanderbilt is unlikely to play this season from what we can take-away from the limited information.

Related Story. Nuggets Resolutions. light

After Thursday’s game in Denver, the Nuggets travel to Phoenix for a Saturday matchup with the Suns then right back to Pepsi Center for a back-to-back with the Portland Trailblazers.