In a possible second-round playoff matchup, the LA Clippers present a considerable challenge for this young Denver Nuggets team.
After the blowout loss on February 28th, many Nuggets fans lost hope that their team could ever compete with a healthy Clippers team. However, that game was a strange one and may not be as indicative of how that matchup would go in the playoffs as we might think.
To start, LA shot 46% from 3 point range up from their season average of 36%. Additionally how they got their buckets is different than I’d expect to see in the postseason. Kawhi didn’t have to do a whole lot and Paul George did most of his damage from 3 point range.
The entire Clippers team ended up getting so many easy buckets in last Friday’s game that we didn’t get to see how they’d function when they were pushed. Now that may not seem like a good thing for the Denver Nuggets, but in a way it is. We know this Nuggets team is better than we saw in that game, especially on the defensive end.
How can the Nuggets stop Kawhi and Paul George?
The easy answer to this question is just that you don’t, you can really only hope to slow them down. Truthfully both Barton and Craig have had success guarding George in the past. He’s a talented player but is at his best when he can abuse smaller players.
The length of both Barton and Craig has given him problems and at least made things tough for him. You’re never going to completely stop him, but you have to get in his face and force difficult shots. The shots he was getting the most recent game were too easy and he will always beat you if you give him those kinds of looks.
As lost as MPJ can get on defense sometimes, he’s actually looked okay at times in one on one defense. He’s not the fleetest of foot but uses his length to recover and still challenge shots. He may be a weapon Malone can use against George come playoff time.
Kawhi is another story altogether, he’s one of the most creative scorers in the league. I’ve often compared his ability to find shots to that of Michael Jordan, especially in when posting up. He’s just a crafty player that also happens to be 6’8″.
He’s easily one of the toughest covers in the entire league, but the Denver Nuggets do have a guy who has defended him well in Jerami Grant. His combination of length and mobility smothers Kawhi and makes any shot attempt a difficult one. The Nuggets best hope of slowing Kawhi down is matching his minutes with Grant’s as much as possible.
Don’t Let Other Guys Beat You
As well as you defend Kawhi and Paul George, they are still going to produce, which makes it even more important to keep their other threats from going off. With the Clippers those threats are Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell.
Lou Williams is an excellent off-the-bench scorer that can hurt you in a number of ways. And the pick and roll between him and Harrell is very dangerous. It’s important to keep Williams in front of you so he doesn’t get deep into the lane where he’s at his best.
The challenge of stopping him is going to fall to a combination of Gary Harris and Torrey Craig, both of whom are capable of disrupting his drives and bothering his shots. Williams has to be considered the X-Factor in this series as he has the ability to break out for a 30-point game on any given night and if that happens I don’t see how the Nuggets win.
Harrell presents an even bigger challenge, his athleticism is otherworldly. The Denver Nuggets have a hard time keeping track of him on the pick and roll and on offensive rebounds. He’s going to get easy buckets in games, but the Nuggets have to stay disciplined to limit those. This might be a series the Nuggets go small with their bench unit to try and match that athleticism and speed.
Exploiting the Mismatch Inside
The good news for the nuggets in this matchup is simply that no one on the Clippers roster has a chance of stopping Nikola Jokic. He can score at will against all of the Clippers bigs. So this is less about Jokic and more about the ability of the Nuggets ball handlers to get him the ball in the post.
This has been an issue for the Nuggets since Jameer Nelson left. The post entry pass has never been a strength of Jamal Murray, though we have seen improvement this season. Jamal’s ability to get Jokic the ball might be the biggest key to this series for the Nuggets. Their offense just won’t cut it if Jamal is made ineffective.
The Nuggets have to do more to get the two-man game between their stars going. It’s a set that is nearly impossible to guard when Murray is hitting shots and finding the passing lanes.
Beyond just getting Murray going, the Nuggets also need to hit open shots. Jokic will draw double teams every time he gets the ball in the post and guys have to be able to make the Clippers pay for doing that.
Will Barton, Jerami Grant, Monte Morris, MPJ, and Paul Millsap have all been fairly consistent in their ability to knock down open shots, the pressure is on Gary Harris and Torrey Craig to start hitting those shots or they may find themselves losing minutes to guys that can.
Ultimately this is one of the toughest teams to match up within the entire league. As we’ve seen things can go horribly wrong against them, but if the Denver Nuggets play like we know they can, they can beat this team.