The Lob City Los Angeles Clippers are on an absolute tear. The team owns the second-best record in the NBA (trailing only the Oklahoma City Thunder) and have won an astounding 13 games in a row. They'll look to make that 14 on Christmas Day, when the feisty Denver Nuggets visit the Staples Center.
Denver made a big splash over the summer by acquiring Andre Iguodala from the Philadelphia 76ers via the Dwight Howard trade, but their season as a whole has been disappointing. Despite great depth, the team is 15-13 and ranks seventh in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Denver's defense has been hit or miss, and time is running out for head coach George Karl to right the ship.
Against the Clippers, this is very possible despite the grand difference in win-loss records. Like Los Angeles, Denver likes to play a fast-paced offense and has a great dunker in Iguodala. Unlike the Clippers, however, the Nuggets' defense has been very suspect and ranks 24th in points allowed, at 100.3 per game.
Los Angeles' defense ranks ninth in the league, which should make for an incredibly fun game to close out Christmas Day. It will be a game full of high-flying dunks and offensive intensity, and maybe some clutch defense on both sides of the court.
In a day full of NBA fun, this is not a game to be missed.
Time: Tuesday, December 25th, 10:30 p.m. EST
Records: Denver Nuggets (15-13) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (21-6)
Betting Lines: Denver (+7), Los Angeles (-7), via Bovada
Injuries: Chauncey Billups (foot, out), Grant Hill (knee, out), Trey Thompkins (knee, out), Ty Lawson (Achilles, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Lob City Seeks to Extend Streak Against Denver to Wrap Up NBA Christmas Day
The Clippers will have one goal entering their game against the Nuggets: extend the winning streak to 14 games. The game may seem easy on the outset, but it is, of course, anything but that.
As inconsistent as the Nuggets have been this season, they just pulled off a big win against the Charlotte Bobcats on December 22. Granted, the Bobcats are not exactly a challenge and have now lost 15 games in a row, but it was a good tuneup game for Denver entering their Christmas Day matchup with Los Angeles.
Thus, while the Clippers must have their signature offense locked and loaded, it is even more important that they play good defense if they are to extend their streak. They have a fine young center in the defensively dominating DeAndre Jordan, and steals leader Chris Paul will provide some excellent halfcourt defense.
The game is Los Angeles' to lose, and the Nuggets will use their fast and feisty offense to try to pull off the upset. Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari will look to be the sparks the team has needed all season long, and Kenneth Faried will seek to dominate the middle.
Everything is set up for this game to be absolutely electrifying, and the players will not disappoint. It may appear heavily in one team's favor, but the truth of the matter is that it is anyone's game, and could very well come down to the wire.
Key Matchup: Blake Griffin vs. Kenneth Faried
I bring you a tale of two power forwards. Both similar in position, but completely different in approach to the game.
First, we have Blake Griffin of the Clippers. He has great size at 6'10", 251 pounds and has been an offensive machine ever since Lob City came to be last season. The former Oklahoma Sooner is averaging 18.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, and he has been his usual explosive dunking self all season long.
However, despite his respectable rebounding totals, defense has never been Griffin's strongest suit. He is unbelievably slow on his feet, does not have much of a low-post game and tends to play a bit soft under the basket when on defense.
That brings us to the second power forward in this story, Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets. He is small for his position, at just 6'8" and 228 pounds, but he plays with the strength and tenacity of someone much bigger. On the season, Faried is averaging 12.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.
What is important to note about Faried for this game is that he literally goes after every rebound. If he's playing defense and an opposing player misses a shot, he's going to go after the loose ball.
This could make for a long night for Griffin, particularly on offense. Faried is going to try to force the explosive dunker into the low-post, well out of his comfort zone. Should he succeed, the Clippers immediately lose one of their prime offensive catalysts as well as a great chance at winning the game.
Unless Griffin is prepared accordingly for his smaller yet stronger counterpart, bringing his team a Christmas victory will go from being a near-certainty to an uphill battle.
X-Factor: Jamal Crawford
One thing that the Clippers have that the Nuggets do not is a spark off the bench. Yes, Denver has Corey Brewer, who has averaged 11.6 points off the bench, but he has yet to fully establish himself as that type of player. For all we know, he could drop off in the second half and we'll never hear from him again.
Jamal Crawford, on the other hand, has long been reputed as one of the game's best guys to come off the bench. In his first season with the Clippers, the man is averaging 16.3 points and shooting 38 percent from long range.
The Nuggets' defense is pesky, particularly from Andre Iguodala and Ty Lawson, and Crawford needs to get past both of them in order to ensure a Clippers victory. He is excellent at both driving to the basket and shooting from long range, and he will need to do both against Denver.
Crawford must also not hesitate to incorporate his mid-range jumper. Despite a reputation as a spark/shooter, he can also do a pretty good job of creating his own shot.
If he can execute his signature skills while also taking some time to create off the dribble, then he will prove to be all the more valuable to the Clippers in the long run. Denver's defense has not been consistent enough on any front, and Crawford must take full advantage of this.
Should he succeed, the Clippers will be in a much better position to extend their winning streak to 14 games.
The Nuggets may try to stop Lob City, but they just won't be able to. Chris Paul is too good a point guard and knows too well how to get the best out of his teammates. Denver won't be able to anticipate many shots down the stretch. This game is going to be a high-scoring contest, and Los Angeles will win out.
Paul will find a way around Faried's defense and manage to connect with Griffin for quite a few dunks, and he too will contribute some clutch shots down the stretch while also playing some pesky defense.
DeAndre Jordan will man the middle like a champ, and Jamal Crawford will do everything he has to do in the minutes he plays off the bench.
That isn't to say that the Nuggets will be completely sunk. Faried will record a double-double, and both Gallinari and Iguodala will have good scoring nights despite a slowed-down Ty Lawson. Corey Brewer will try to keep up with Crawford, but his efforts will prove futile.
As much as Nuggets fans may want to see it, a Christmas victory is not in the cards for them this year. Rather, the win will go to the Los Angeles Clippers, whose 14th straight victory will officially cement them as a team to watch come playoff time.
Los Angeles Clippers 116, Denver Nuggets 104