There are playoff implications galore for Thursday night's Western Conference showdown between the Clippers and Nuggets in Denver, but the entertainment value of the matchups alone makes any game between these two teams worth watching. At 40-22, the Nuggets are 3.5 games behind the Clippers in the standings, but they are practically unbeatable at Pepsi Center, where they have a sterling 26-3 record. They'll try to protect their home court on Thursday in a nationally broadcast TNT game that will tip off at 10:30 p.m. ET.
In the mile-high atmosphere of Denver, the Nuggets' frenetic pace and unparalleled depth can overwhelm even the best teams. They're a team built for the open court, with long and lean athletes at nearly every position who can fly up and down the court. If you commit a live-ball turnover against George Karl's team, almost every single time, they're going to run the ball down your throat and dunk on you. They play the second-highest pace in the NBA, partly because they force the second-most turnovers in the league.
Denver's penchant for gambling will put a lot of pressure on the Clippers backcourt of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups. The two veterans are unlikely to be rattled, but they could struggle if the pace of the game gets ratcheted up, particularly when the Nuggets stick longer defenders like Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer on them. And while the Clippers have a reputation as being one of the most explosive teams in the NBA, their starting unit prefers to play at a more deliberate tempo and they're ranked only 16th in the league in pace.
That changes when they go to their second unit, headlined by Eric Bledsoe, one of the most athletic PGs in the NBA. L.A. has made a living all season taking advantage of their superior depth, but their reserves will be tested by a Denver second unit that features Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee and Brewer. With so many weapons at their teams' disposal, the contrasting styles of Karl and Vinny Del Negro will be on full display. While Karl is one of the most inventive and flexible coaches in the NBA, Del Negro is one of the most deliberate, rarely changing his rotation to match up with the other team.
Blake, JaVale and the Dunk Contest
They won't start the game against each other, but at some point on Thursday, two of the most explosive dunkers in the NBA will likely be matched up. Blake Griffin won the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest thanks to his bigger brand name and use of props, but McGee's aerial creativity -- from dunking three balls at once to dunking two balls on two different rims -- is what really had fans buzzing. Griffin's ability to play the game at 11-plus feet in the air gives him an advantage over almost every opponent, but that won't be the case on Thursday. Forget who wins the game -- if either JaVale or Blake can dunk on the other, the basketball interwebs might shut down.