Ghost of playoffs past visit Clippers-Nuggets Christmas matchup

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is defended by Clippers center Ivica Zubac on Aug. 12, 2020.
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is defended by Clippers center Ivica Zubac on Aug. 12, 2020.
(Kim Klement / Associated Press)

As much as the Clippers prefer to move past a dark period in their playoff history, the NBA has decided that L.A. again will have to deal with its postseason collapse.

So on Christmas night, the Clippers will face the Denver Nuggets team that sent them home from the NBA bubble in a most inglorious way during the Western Conference semifinals this fall.

The significance of this game between the Clippers and Nuggets at Denver on Friday night obviously wasn’t lost on the league.

The Clippers held a 3-1 lead against the Nuggets, but lost the series in seven games.

Doc Rivers lost his job as coach of the Clippers after that collapse and Tyronn Lue was hired as his replacement.

“I wouldn’t say significance from last year,” Lue said on a videoconference Thursday. “The significance is us getting better each game and that’s our main focus. We just want to keep getting better, continue to work on good habits, on our defensive habits and our offensive habits, and to continue to keep growing as a team. I think that’s the most important thing.”

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue says he strives to be truthful with his players. The approach helped during Tuesday’s season opener against the Lakers.

Dec. 23, 2020

The way in which the Clippers were defeated in the final three games against the Nuggets on the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla., was startling.

With leads of 16, 19 and 12 points, respectively, the Clippers fell apart in every game.

Their two stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, were not up to the task in Game 7 and the franchise was unable to reach the conference finals for the first time.

George struggled mightily, going four of 16 from the field while scoring 10 points. He missed all six of his shots in the fourth quarter — including one hitting the side of the backboard — and didn’t score.


Leonard shot six for 22 from the field and scored just 14 points. He missed all five of his shots in the fourth and didn’t score.

The Clippers never got a handle on Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who averaged 24.4 points per game on 51.5% shooting, 13.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists.

Jokic is at it again, posting a triple-double of 29 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists during Denver’s season-opening loss to Sacramento on Wednesday night.

“Well, he’s a great player,” Lue said of Jokic. “I think with any great player you got to give him different looks. I think you can’t give him a steady diet of the same thing because they will pick you apart. And with his passing ability, he’s able to do that, so we just got to mix it up on him. Can’t give him the same look all night, just try to keep him guessing.”

There’s reason for skepticism about the Clippers despite Tuesday’s season-opening win over the Lakers. Making a real playoff run is what matters.

Dec. 23, 2020

Clippers guard Luke Kennard said he’s “pretty excited” to be playing his first Christmas Day game.

Yet he knows how things went so wrong for the Clippers against the Nuggets in that playoff series.

“I remember watching the bubble and the playoff series and it was a great series,” he said during a videoconference. “So, yeah, I think some guys have a chip on their shoulders coming into this game. And for me to be a part of that, I’ll help anyway that I can. Our goal is to win and we’re going to be ready to go.”

It was Kennard’s first time addressing the media since he signed a four-year extension with the Clippers that could be worth up to $64 million.


“It’s a really good situation that I’m in right now,” Kennard said. “To have a long-term commitment with a team like this, an organization like this, I didn’t second-guess anything. It was when I had the opportunity to do the deal, I was all about it and I went for it.”


Lue said Marcus Morris, who didn’t play during the preseason or the first game against the Lakers Tuesday because of right knee soreness, won’t be available for the game against the Nuggets.



When: 7:30 p.m., Friday

On the air: TV: ESPN; Radio: 570

Update: The Clippers had six players score in double figures in their season-opening win over the Lakers, led by George’s 33 points and Leonard’s 26. The Nuggets opened their season with a home loss to Sacramento on a buzzer-beating tip-in by Buddy Hield. Rising star Michael Porter Jr. had 24 points and five rebounds in the opener.