LOS ANGELES — The Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers will fight for a little elbow room in the Western Conference playoff chase Wednesday when they battle at Staples Center.
With the NBA season having just turned toward the second half, the Nuggets sit toward the bottom of the conference’s playoff-eligible teams, with the Clippers a half-game back in ninth place. In fact, they had identical 22-21 records before the Nuggets held on Tuesday for a 105-102 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
But while the Clippers have seen a resurgence with the return of All-Star forward Blake Griffin, the Nuggets appeared to be hitting something of a midseason wall before Tuesday’s victory. Denver had lost four of its last five games, before almost seeing a big lead disappear against the Mavericks, although only one of those defeats came at home.
“We’re a team hopefully trending in the right direction,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said, according to nuggets.com. “This past seven or eight games hasn’t been a great stretch for us overall, and obviously I think fatigue has definitely set in. And our youth is not an excuse, it’s a reality. We are playing a lot of young players. … We’re not satisfied but we’re moving in the right direction.”
A victory Wednesday would be a momentum boost for a Denver squad that will then play its next five games at home, with only one playoff-eligible opponent in that group.
A recent dip in shooting percentage will have to be corrected.
Wednesday’s game will mark the end of the Clippers’ run of 12 consecutive games in California, with 10 of those games taking place at Staples Center. They have lost just three of those 10 games.
And the Nuggets will be facing a team with a bit of a fiery attitude. The Clippers nearly came to blows in their victory with the Houston Rockets both on the court near the end of the game and in the locker room area after the game. The NBA is investigating the incidents.
The Clippers have been crushed by injuries all season, which might be a factor in the edge they have displayed of late. Griffin is back now from a knee issue that kept him out for a month and a concussion that cost him two more games.
The lack of scoring depth has allowed Clippers guard Lou Williams free rein to exploit his offensive abilities, and he has responded with two Western Conference player of the week awards in the last two months. Williams is averaging a career-best 23.1 points and 4.9 assists.
Guard Austin Rivers (ankle), forward Danilo Gallinari (glute) and guard C.J. Williams (ankle) have all missed time of late, while center DeAndre Jordan (ankle) has missed two games and is listed as “questionable” for Wednesday. Yet the Clippers have managed to win five consecutive games, including Monday’s emotional victory over the Houston Rockets.
What kind of energy will they have for the Nuggets?
“We have to do what we have done the past however many games,” the Clippers’ Griffin told reporters after Monday’s victory. “We have been playing with the right spirit. Each game is an individual game and we have to look at it like that. We have been playing really well.
“I think we, as a team, know just as well as anybody a season can turn in the blink of an eye. You have to give every game the same attention. We can’t say ‘Oh we won this game, so the next game might be a little easier.’ It won’t be.”
The Nuggets are expected to be without forward Paul Milsap (wrist).