Clippers have postseason aspirations in mind vs. Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets are in the playoffs, barring a monumental collapse in the last 24 games, and aiming for a No. 2 seed. The Los Angeles Clippers are hovering near the postseason or the lottery and have one of the easiest schedules heading down the stretch.
Easy schedule after Sunday, that is.
Reports this week are that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer wants his team to try to make the playoffs and not get into the lottery. While they have four games left with two of the worst teams in the NBA -- the New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers -- they first have to face one of the best teams in the league when they visit Denver on Sunday.
The Nuggets are second in the Western Conference and got there despite a rash of injuries to key rotation players. They got healthy at the All-Star break and are ready to make a push at the franchise-best win mark of 57 set in 2012-13. Guard Isaiah Thomas made his season debut in the last game before the break and on Friday, guard Gary Harris returned in a win at Dallas.
Thomas, who missed the first 56 games after offseason hip surgery, had 16 points in 16 minutes in the 114-104 win over the Mavericks.
Denver has gone from plugging holes to an embarrassment of riches sitting on its bench.
"We had a deep bench already but adding (Thomas) in the mix, I think he makes us even more deep," said forward Paul Millsap, one of four starters who have missed time with injury, after Friday's win.
The Nuggets' drive to the postseason started on the last day of the 2017-18 campaign when an overtime loss at Minnesota kept them out of the playoffs. They started the season 9-1 and despite a few speed bumps have been consistently winning.
This season started with a win over the Clippers in Los Angeles, and Sunday marks the last of four matchups between the two. Denver will face Los Angeles for the first time since the Clippers dealt Tobias Harris to Philadelphia. Shipping him to the Eastern Conference hasn't changed L.A.'s goal of reaching the postseason.
The Clippers are sitting in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference after winning at Memphis on Friday night. They got a big night from forward Montrezl Harrell, who scored 30 points and showed he can be force now that Harris is gone.
He has teammates that believe in him and push him, including guard Patrick Beverley. Beverley praises Harrell's all-out effort when he's on the court.
"Playing hard is a skill, especially nowadays," Beverley said after the win over the Grizzlies. "We've been fortunate. Trez has been fortunate to kind of own that skill and bring it every night. What he does, you just have to give him a lot of credit."
Los Angeles will need that kind of effort from everyone against the healthy Nuggets if it wants a split of the season series. Denver split the two games at the Clippers and routed them at home on Jan. 10.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 23, 2019