HOME TEAM: Denver Nuggets (0-1, 0-1 at home)
There’s only one way for the Nuggets to get over their nightmarish season-opening 124-122 overtime loss at home to the Sacramento Kings: by winning the rematch with their conference semifinals victims.
Thanks to their mastery of the Clippers in the last playoffs, the Nuggets have managed to cover the spread in six of their last seven meetings with LA. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are unquestionably the top guys to watch out for Denver, especially since they were the two who torched the Clippers the most in that series.
Jokic posted a triple-double in the Kings game, recording 29 points, 15 rebounds, and 14 assists. Murray, on the other hand, was a dud, scoring just nine points on 1-of-9 shooting. Maybe seeing Paul George and the Clippers will get him going again. Murray averaged 22.6 points in the last playoffs against LA.
ROAD TEAM: LA Clippers (1-0, 0-0 on the road)
You bet that the Clippers have this game against Denver circled on their calendars a long time ago. The Clippers kicked off their bounce-back SZN in style, clobbering the defending NBA champions Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, 116-109.
The score does not fully justify the dominance of the Clippers in that game, but Paul George and company played like the Lakers stole their lunch. Paul George silenced his critics by dropping a 33-point performance, while Kawhi Leonard put up 26 points.
George and Leonard are constant factors for the Clippers, but big man Serge Ibaka could be the team’s difference-maker on Saturday. Ibaka brings a tougher interior defender and better rim protection than what Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell brought to the table in the last playoffs.
With Ibaka around, Jokic will also have to work extra on the defensive end. Ibaka had 15 points and hit a pair of 3-pointers to go with a blocked shot in the win over the Lakers. The Clippers are 7-3 against the spread in their last 10 games as the road team.
The Clippers are out for revenge. They are smelling blood, especially after seeing the Nuggets get stunned by Sacramento. But one thing that’s going in Denver’s favor is that it doesn’t have to travel for this game against the Clippers. Expect a closely contested game, with the Clippers getting a 114-105 win.