There are two Staples Centers -- at least in the minds of opposing NBA teams.
There is the Staples Center the San Antonio Spurs struggled in Friday night, an arena with loudly cheering fans, courtside celebrities, electricity in the air and a talented, intimidating home team in the Lakers.
And there is the Staples Center the Denver Nuggets excelled in Saturday night in a 98-86 victory over the Clippers -- an arena with sparse crowds, few celebrities willing to be seen courtside, a feeling of hopelessness in the air and a perennially poor home team.
The Nuggets have struggled on the road, but in the Staples Center of the Clippers, more like a neutral court than enemy territory for visiting teams, Denver rolled in front of an announced crowd of 13,062.
It was the Clippers’ sixth consecutive loss, the team falling to 4-8.
While the score may have seemed respectable, the Clippers were not, according to Coach Mike Dunleavy.
“This was our worst game of the year,” he said. “We were not tough enough. We let them come in and totally outplay us. It’s time to get a gut check.
“To earn playing time, you’ve got to play defense, you’ve got to move the ball and you’ve got to make shots. If you can do that, there is plenty of playing time to go around.”
The Clippers shot only 34.9% from the floor and an abysmal 17.6% from the three-point line, making only three of 17 from behind the arc.
Corey Maggette led the Clippers in scoring with 22 points, but he made only six of 14 from the field. Quentin Richardson struggled the most from behind the three-point line, going two for seven.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, shot 46.8% from the floor, led by Voshon Lenard’s 26 points (11 of 17 from the floor).
The Nuggets have won seven of eight at home, but Saturday night’s victory is only their third in eight road games.
The only team to beat the Nuggets in Denver is the Clippers, 104-102 winners in overtime Nov. 7. That launched the Clippers on a four-game winning streak, but they haven’t won since that streak ended.
Denver Coach Jeff Bzdelik reminded the team of their loss to the Clippers several times on Saturday.
“We watched film of that game this morning,” he said, “and we watched it again before the game. We didn’t think we gave our best effort the last time we played them and the guys wanted to put one on them this time.”
The Denver victory, boosting the Nuggets to 10-6, enabled them to equal their best start in a decade. The 1994-95 Nuggets also started 10-6 and that was the last Denver team to reach the playoffs.
The fans’ biggest reaction Saturday night was reserved for Andre Miller, the Denver guard who departed the Clippers as a free agent after last season, his only season as a Clipper. The fans booed Miller every time he touched the ball at the start of the game.
But that idea didn’t last once the fans realized he was usually doing something good every time he touched the ball. Miller finished with 19 points and seven assists, making six of 10 from the field, seven of nine from the free-throw line and showing a more animated game than he ever demonstrated in Los Angeles.
Each side lost a player because of a strained groin in the second quarter, Chris Wilcox of the Clippers and Marcus Camby of the Nuggets.
Nothing seemed to go right in Staples Center on Saturday. The start of the game and then the start of the second half were delayed because of a malfunction in one of the clocks.
And a spot in the key at one end of the court seemed to repeatedly accumulate moisture, causing three players to slip, Wilcox’ stumble being the most serious.
He is listed as questionable for Monday night’s game against the Spurs.
“Even the floor people [the ones who use the mops] couldn’t seem to get it right,” Dunleavy said.
Funny, that never seems to happen in the Lakers’ Staples Center.