What to watch: Clippers-Nuggets

February, 22, 2012
2/22/12
10:27
AM PT

Clippers (19-11) vs. Denver Nuggets (18-15) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Closing out: The Clippers had prided themselves on closing out games this season with Chris Paul on the court. They had come back from 18 down against the Portland Trail Blazers on the road, 15 down against the San Antonio Spurs at home and had comeback from at least 10 points down in six games since Jan. 29. In their first back-to-back losses since December, however, the Clippers squandered late leads with Paul being the primary culprit. They blew a 95-92 lead with 9.5 seconds left to the Spurs when Paul inexplicably threw the ball to a wide-open Gary Neal for the game-tying three-pointer and the Spurs won in overtime. Against the Warriors, the Clippers were up 97-95 with 2:07 left in the game before the Warriors closed out the game with a 9-0 run to win. Paul, who had five turnovers against Golden State, did not score in the fourth quarter and went 0-for-4 from the field. “The fourth quarter is when leaders have to step up and I didn’t,” Paul said. “I had way too many turnovers.”

2. Three in a row: After not losing back-to-back games in 2012, the Clippers will now try to prevent losing three straight for the first time this season and for the first time since April 9, 2011. The Clippers had actually circled Wednesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets on the calendar long before their recent struggles and it had nothing to do with the fact that it is the last game before the All-Star break. Denver beat the Clippers 112-91 on Feb. 2 in the Clippers’ most lopsided loss at home this season and Paul wants to return the favor in the rubber match after the teams’ split the first two games on each others' home floors. “We have to come out and give a good showing against Denver, we owe those guys,” Paul said. “What better way to go into the All-Star break than with a win. We have to win… They beat us here at home and we need to get this win for our minds going into All-Star break.”

3. Mo-mentum: Lost in the midst of the Clippers’ two-game losing streak has been the play of Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Mo Williams. Against the Warriors, Williams hit six three-pointers, nailing his first six attempts, and scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter to give the Clippers the lead late before they froze up and failed to score another point. It was Williams’ first time hitting six three-pointers in a game since April 8, 2010 and ninth time he’s hit that many threes in a contest. This season, Williams is averaging 13.8 points and 3.3 assists. The Clippers’ bench has scored a total of 682 points this year with Williams’ 360 points accounting for 52.7% of the production.

4. Injury bug: Outside of losing Chauncey Billups for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, the Clippers’ current roster is relatively healthy heading into the last game before the break. The same can’t be said for the struggling Nuggets. Danilo Gallinari (left ankle sprain), Nene (left calf strain) and Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain) will all miss Wednesday night's game while Ty Lawson (left ankle sprain) will be a game-time decision. After the Clippers lost Billups for the season, his former Nuggets teammate Kenyon Martin made his debut for Los Angeles and the team went after J.R. Smith hard before he ended up signing with the New York Knicks. If Billups had been healthy and Smith had signed with the Clippers, Nuggets coach George Karl could have been looking at a lineup Wednesday night similar to the one he took the Western Conference Finals in 2009.

5. Blake show: Against the Warriors, Blake Griffin had 21 points and 9 rebounds. It was only the second time since Feb. 4 that he hasn’t had 10 or more rebounds in a game. During that stretch he hasn’t reached at least 20 points only twice. The last game Griffin failed to reach 20 points or 10 rebounds was Feb. 2 when the Clippers lost to the Nuggets and Griffin finished with 18 points and 5 rebounds, his season in low in rebounds. Griffin trails only Kevin Love this season in 20-point, 10-rebound games and is the only player this season averaging over 21 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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