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Do you remember the last time the Denver Nuggets franchise won a playoff series in consecutive seasons?
For the first time since the 1980s, the Nuggets have won a playoff series in back-to-back seasons, and this year they have earned themselves the opportunity to advance to the second round to play against the reigning Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers.
For Leonard, reaching the second round is part of him delivering on the promise that he brought to the team when he signed with them in free agency and committed them to trading for former Oklahoma City Thunder wing Paul George. The Clippers had to give up a ton of assets to acquire the veteran star, but were able to maintain a deep roster thanks to the savvy front office work of Jerry West and the coaching of Doc Rivers. An owner that isn’t shy about spending to develop a winning franchise in Steve Ballmer helped fund their playoff run, and now the Denver Nuggets stand in their way of a Conference Finals berth.
It’s been quite a few years since the Nuggets made the Conference Finals, although they were one game away from reaching that series last season, when they lost to Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers in seven games. While the Nuggets struggled against a San Antonio Spurs team last season that played well above their talent level, they had a much tougher task this year in having to defeat the Utah Jazz to advance. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert put up a good fight, but ultimately blew a 3-1 series lead, only the 12th time in NBA history that has happened to a team in the playoffs.
But enough about the road the two teams took to get here. Now it’s time for Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and the Denver Nuggets to take the court against Leonard, George, and the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Semi-finals.
Who: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Clippers (Series tied 0-0)
When: 7:00 PM MT
How to watch: TNT
Rival blog: Clips Nation
Three Things to Watch
Can Jamal Murray score? There is no question in my mind that Murray was limited in Game Seven after Joe Ingles kneed him in the thigh. The explosiveness that had allowed the Nuggets young point guard to get separation from his defender in the previous three games was gone, and he looked like he was dragging his leg around the court at times. One day off might not be enough time to get fully healthy, and if he’s not able to use that leg to push off, he could really struggle to score. It’s already going to be a tough sled with the perimeter defenders the Clippers have.
While the Clippers were content with having Marcus Morris guard Luka Doncic at times in the first round, Murray is a much smaller player. Doc Rivers will be totally content with having Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Landry Shamet, and yes, Kawhi Leonard, match up on defense against Murray. He was the X-factor in Round One for Denver, and if Los Angeles is smart, they’ll make sure he can’t get hot in any of their games.
Who does Kawhi guard? The Nuggets don’t have an offensive forward that scares the Clippers on their roster. “But Michael Porter Jr!” No. Michael Malone isn’t going to be able to convince himself that Porter Jr. needs to play a lot of minutes, and when he does get minutes, he’s going to foul out. Leonard is too strong and crafty for Porter Jr to not send him to the free throw line, and then that scoring threat is gone for Denver. Leonard can simply lurk in passing lanes or get switched onto Jokic if needed. If Leonard is on Murray, forget about Jamal scoring. The Nuggets will have to spend a ton of time each possession trying to get him to switch off ball, and that’ll make for a lot of ugly possessions.
How can the Nuggets learn from the Mavericks? Denver should have started watching tape of Dallas against Los Angeles from the first round. It’s going to be insanely difficult to counter the Clippers if Leonard is on fire from the midrange, and darn near impossible if George can see the ball go through the net a few times in a quarter. The Nuggets are going to have to play a lot of wing defenders high minutes, and those defenders are going to need to shoot a lot of 3-pointers at an efficient rate. If the Nuggets can make 20-24 3-pointers in a game, I think they’ll have a chance to win those games. They’ll need to avoid getting in foul trouble, make a lot of 3-pointers, and try to win the turnover battle every single game. It’s going to be a tough series to win, but there’s a world where the Nuggets take this series. It might not be this world, but there is a always a chance.
Denver Nuggets 109 – Los Angeles Clippers 107