Thursday evening may only contain four NBA games on the schedule, but among them is a potential Western Conference finals preview.
The Denver Nuggets lead the way in the West, once again inspired by MVP Nikola Jokic, who has enough support around him for a title tilt this season.
However, the LA Clippers were tipped pre-season to finally make a Finals run and they still look good for it, despite their 21-18 record. While the Clippers sit sixth in the West, they’ve got enough talent to trouble the Nuggets.
Denver head into Thursday night’s clash in great form and although the Clippers will put up a real fight, issues on the road could ultimately cost Ty Lue’s side.
|What||Los Angeles Clippers @ Denver Nuggets|
|Where||Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado|
|When||22:00 ET, Thursday January 5th 2023|
|How to watch||NBA League Pass|
This clash is the first night of a back-to-back for both teams, which has proved to be an issue for the Clippers this season.
They’ve tended to rest Kawhi Leonard on one of those nights as part of his ongoing management of a long-standing injury, but don’t expect him to sit out in Denver.
The Clippers should go in strong for this one, which is essentially a test of their championship credentials. These two are high in the betting for the title, with the Clippers at +800, following by the surging Nuggets at +1200.
The Golden State Warriors remain high in the betting, despite sitting ninth in the West. The Clippers sit alongside them at +400 to win the Conference and make it to the Finals, with the Nuggets narrowly behind at +450.
This would make for a blockbuster Play-off series, with every chance they meet in the Conference finals.
It’s hard to get a read on the Clippers, talent-wise they’re much better than sixth in the West, as their price to go all the way this season shows.
However, the Nuggets are a different story, as their return to full strength has brought a brilliant regular season return. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr are back from injury and they’ve lifted the Nuggets into the league’s top tier.
Denver are 24-13 so far this term and are priced at -125 to hit 53 wins this season. They look good to hit that mark, having worked out their issues after suffering three losses by Halloween.
The Nuggets head into this game having won 10 of their last 13 matches, while they’ve been stellar at home.
With 14 wins from 17 at the Ball Arena, even a full-strength Clippers are up against it this week.
The visitors’ results can’t fully be trusted given their injury issues, but they’ve suffered 10 defeats on the road this term, while they’ve lost half of their meetings with Western Conference sides.
Not being at full strength has been an issue for the Clippers, but even with their best players on the court, they aren’t quite in sync.
In three of the last four games Leonard has played, the Clippers have lost. Even if the Clippers target this clash, the Nuggets could prove too strong.
The Clippers rank fifth for defensive rating this season, which they’ve needed given their issues at the other end of the court. They are 28th in the league in points scored per game, which is an awful record even with limited appearances for Leonard and Paul George.
However, part of the Clippers’ struggles on their travels has been down to the fact that their defense away from home has been off. They rank 12th for opponent points per game on the road, so they could struggle against a relentless Nuggets side.
Only five sides have scored more points per game than the Nuggets this term, while they average 119.1 per home outing.
On the other hand, they are 25th in terms of points conceded per 100 possessions. That offers the Clippers a boost offensively, so there could be a high-scoring encounter ahead.
As deep as this Clippers roster is, they aren’t going to be able to match up shot-for-shot with the Nuggets. If their defense struggles on the road again, another Nuggets win looks likely.
The Clippers have already lost plenty of big tests this term, with a poor 6-12 record against sides who are over .500.
That includes a 114-104 loss to Denver earlier this term, so look to Nikola Jokic and co. for another victory.