Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Can Denver do it again?
The Denver Nuggets find themselves in a familiar place, down three games to one in the playoffs. They were able to mount a comeback and ultimately win the series against the sixth seeded Utah Jazz, now they will have to attempt to pull off the same feat against the Los Angeles Clippers. It should be a much more difficult task this time around. The Clippers, unlike the Jazz, have looked every bit superior to the Nuggets.
Denver’s struggles have been tied to the poor performances of Jamal Murray mostly. Nikola Jokic has been superb but Murray has not been able to replicate his success from the first round. That’s to be expected somewhat given the caliber of defenders the Clippers can throw at him. Jamal has almost exclusively been defended by either Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, all of whom have been named to the All NBA Defense First Team in the past (Leonard and Beverely were both Second Team recipients this season). Unfortunately for Denver, the only other player to provide a modicum of help in this series is Michael Porter Jr who embroiled himself in controversy with his game four post game comments. If Denver plans for their season to see the weekend, they’ll need to put the off court comments aside and figure out how to beat this Clippers defense.
Who: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Clippers (Clippers lead series 3-1)
When: 4:30 PM MDT
Where: The Bubble. Orlando, FL.
How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. TNT, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Sneak into the bubble with an Adam Silver mask. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.
Rival Blog(s): 213 Hoops
Player availibility: Will Barton – out (knee), Vlatko Cancar – out (foot)
Key matchup: Michael Porter Jr vs Michael Malone
Porter Jr didn’t mince too many words about why he felt he didn’t see the ball virtually at all in the second half of game four, putting the onus on the coaching staff. Malone has been silent thus far about what MPJ said but noted in his own press conference that he’s got to do a better job of getting Mike involved. That was pre-being called out to the national media though. It’s going to be interesting to see how many minutes coach gives to his talented rookie tonight. There’s a big argument to be made that at this point Porter should start over veteran Paul Millsap but Millsap is, well, a veteran. To bench him in favor of a rookie in the postseason would be a huge slap in the face to a player who has more playoff experience than the rest of the starting lineup combined. Yet, Millsap has struggled and Porter appears to be one of the few players outside of Nikola to be able to score effectively against this Clippers defense. It’s going to be very interesting to see how coach navigates this one.
Key thing to watch for: fight
Tonight will also be a test of the Nuggets constitution. Coming back against the Jazz clearly was an exhausting exercise, as evidenced by the butt whopping the Nuggets got in game one against Los Angeles. Coming back against an even tougher opponent must seem daunting if not nigh impossible and simply the thought of having to win three elimination games in a row, again, has to be exhausting. Everyone, including yours truly, is considering this series over. With the added allure of knowing they will get to head back to their own beds and lives if they lose tonight, one has to wonder if Denver will have the energy to keep this thing going. It comes down to pride at this point. We’re about to find out how much this team has.
Opening thought: no matter what happens, fans should be proud
If Denver loses tonight it’ll be a bit disappointing that they weren’t more competitive in the series but that’s really where the disappointment ends. It was always going to be an extremely difficult task to overcome the Clippers and we all knew that from the minute the Woj bomb came out that Kawhi and George were headed to L.A. If they lose, the Nuggets will end up in a similar position as last year, which on one hand will mark the first time in Malone’s tenure they didn’t see improvement on their end of season results, but at the same time be a testament of how talented this team is. You have to go back to the 80s to find the last Nuggets team that went to the Western Conference Semifinals in back to back years. At the end of the day, this bubble confirmed that the Nuggets have a rising star in Michael Porter Jr and that alone helps them to take the next step. Once they figure out how to get their three best players to flow together, I’m sure they will figure out how to go even farther, if not all the way, in the postseason.