The Clippers predictably took the fizz out of the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on Saturday night, rolling to a 107-92 victory. The surprising part was that the Clippers had lost their previous five games on the same court against the Nuggets, whose downward spiral continues. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. The Clippers’ defense rarely rests. The biggest difference between the inconsistent team of the season’s first half and the one that has surged in the Western Conference standings is its commitment to defense. The Clippers have been one of the NBA’s top defensive teams since the All-Star break and continued to defend at a high level against the Nuggets even after their shots stopped falling, a sign that the Clippers are fully committed to stopping opponents. They held Denver to 15 points in the first quarter and 22 in the fourth. The Nuggets shot only 37.6% for the game, including 27.3% from three-point range.
2. The starters’ prolific output has subsidized the bench’s poor play. It has seemed like a rarity in recent weeks when the Clippers’ starting five doesn’t all score in double figures, led by the threesome of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick. The Clippers’ starters combined for 84 points against the Nuggets, offsetting a bench that could tally only 23 points. The starters’ strong play should be highlighted even more once the playoffs start since bench minutes are more restricted.
3. CP3 = MVP? Probably not, but the Clippers point guard continues to show why he has a career player efficiency rating higher than those of Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. Paul had another strong showing against the Nuggets with 23 points, nine assists and five rebounds while committing only one turnover. His sustained brilliance has almost become a given around the league, hurting him in the buzz department that is being dominated by the likes of James Harden and Stephen Curry.
4. Jamal Crawford’s return is imminent. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said there was a slight chance his team’s star sixth man could play against the Lakers on Sunday, though a more realistic return would be Tuesday, also against the Lakers. Crawford has been out since suffering a severely bruised right calf on March 2. His return should bolster a second unit that largely needs the boost, not to mention the Clippers’ fourth-quarter offense. Crawford was the league’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter at the time of his injury.
5. Two games in three days versus the Lakers is a good thing for the Clippers. With the second and third spots in the Western Conference still up for grabs, not to mention all-important home-court advantage in the first round, the Clippers should consider these games in the Hallway Rivalry as must wins. A victory Sunday would extend the Clippers’ winning streak in the series to six games, which would be a franchise record.