In Denver tonight, the Clippers will focus on creating their first winning streak of the season. It will be tough playing against a talented, if injury-riddled, Nuggets team. Much of what lead to the Clippers first regular season victory can be found in tonight’s game. Against Oklahoma City, they took advantage of the spark that Eric Bledsoe provided (17 points and 8 assists on 7-10 shooting) and the lack of interior defensive presence that they saw with Dallas (Chandler, Haywood and to a lesser extent Nowitzki) or San Antonio (Duncan).
If Nene isn’t available tonight, the Nuggets will start Carmelo Anthony (6’8”), Shelden Williams (6’9”) and Gary Forbes (6’7”). They are the second shortest front court in the league, one third of an inch taller than the miniscule front court of the Houston Rockets (Shane Battier, Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes).
Although, as short as they are, the Nuggets are still off to a 2-2 start and there seems to be a feeling of resigned goodwill amongst the team. That is, while they’re all here now, they might as well enjoy it. It’s been spearheaded by the good vibes surrounding the return of George Karl from cancer. Starting at the end of last season and lasting over the offseason the forever apoplectic coach has had to struggle against throat cancer. Because of the discomfort that is caused by yelling and his happiness to just be alive and on the sidelines, his temperament has changed. It may not be happy go lucky, but it’s at least solemnly grateful. And the team recognizes that.
Of course, there are practical problems beyond the coach’s health. Chris Anderson and Nene have struggled with injury and there is the whole issue with Carmelo. The Carmelo rumors have been swirling and it looks like there is no way that he’s going to take the $65 million extension to stay in Denver. The new GM Masai Ujiri has appeared determined to not suffer from the same fate that Toronto and Cleveland did when they let Bosh and LeBron walk with trade exceptions as the only thing to show for it.
Unfortunately, that gives the team the lingering feeling of inevitable collapse. And it’s not just Carmelo they may lose. J.R. Smith is at the end of his contract. So is Kenyon Martin. Nene has a player option, Chauncey Billups has a team option. So even though this team is just a season and change removed from reaching the Western Conference Finals, they’re teetering on the edge of rebuilding.
The Clippers need to take advantage of the uncertainty of the Nuggets. Growing from the bench momentum in the Dallas game, to the harder play in San Antonio game and the recent crushing of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clippers have a semblance of momentum.
What I’m interested in seeing, in addition to the continual development of the Eric Squared backcourt, is the evolution of the Clippers post game. Even though the Clippers handily beat a smaller team in the Thunder, it wasn’t because of the interior dominance of Chris Kaman (4 points on 2 for 9 shooting). Blake played well, but to this point there has been no symbiosis between him and Kaman. Which is somewhat strange because they are both above average passers for their position, Blake likes to bully around the low block and Kaman likes to work a lot at the elbow (in addition to the low block). It seems only natural that they could create a formidable and cogent offensive punch.
Clearly, this Clippers team is in building mode, but even in this nascent state they have the tools, the momentum and the talent already assembled to beat the Nuggets in Denver. Whether that happens, though, remains to be seen.