Recap: Clippers beat the Nuggets; here are some observations


In the preseason opener, the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Denver Nuggets 103-96 as the bench almost coughed up the lead, meaning Clippers basketball is officially back, ladies and gentlemen.

Going away from the traditional recap format, here are some observations from the night, starting with bench play.

The Bench Has Some Work To Do

And we knew this coming in, but seeing it on the floor for the first time confirmed it ten times over.

The issue as of now would be having too many guys who are used to believing they need to do too many things to make an impact, with the top ‘thing’ being create in isolation basketball, which nullifies all the praise of Doc Rivers being able to acquire numerous ball-handlers. Maybe a hierarchy will be established as the season plays out and fitting niches are carved, but right now bench play will equate to a gang of isolation basketball and long two’s, which bodes poorly for a group that consists of Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Josh Smith, and Lance Stephenson. The group did show some good, using their “lack of size” to beat the Nuggets on the fast break, and when the ball moved good things happened. Now, and every time out from this point on, will be about the chemistry; there’s no true rush as these things take time to work out, but it’s imperative if the Clippers want to be champions or it’ll be another second-round exit for the group.

Josh Smith is the world’s biggest tease

Speaking of the bench, Smith is the anti-Draymond Green: he possesses all talent — really, more — but none of the will and discipline to remain inside the box his role asks  and play toward his strengths, which is the story of his career. But when he does lean on his strengths, you get the player who finished 4-of-5 in the restricted area (and 1-of-8 everywhere else).

It’s those glances that make Smith a worthwhile addition to the bench, and this is without referring to his other goods (defense, playmaking, attitude, etc.). On some nights he’ll catch fire from behind the arc, willing the Clippers to an entertaining victory on the way, but on most, as his past in Houston, Detroit, and Atlanta show us, it’ll be the opposite, and instead of entertaining, it’ll be aggravation as Smith shies away from his strengths to be a player he wishes to be — tonight was a mixture of both, with the meter never sitting comfortably between the two sides.

The Starters Are Still Good

This particular narrative and beaten and tried, and boring in comparison to scoping in on how the bench will look, but the change in starting small forward, from Matt Barnes to Paul Pierce or Wesley Johnson, doesn’t alter the fact that this Clippers starting lineup is extremely talented.

The Nuggets aren’t the perfect litmus test, but this group looks to be in mid-season form, and that’s a welcome sight after the same group performed inconsistently at the start of last season.

DeAndre Jordan‘s second gear

It’s a preseason game against a likely lottery team without its starting center — who happens to be just a second-year player — but Jordan looked quite impressive tonight, finishing with a team-high 15 points and 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks (and the highest +/- by any player).

For Jordan, the energy will always be there, but it’s the concentration and showing of improved defense that creates optimism for the center Los Angeles almost missed out on this summer. If this continues, maybe the All-STar game is in his future, and maybe a “rightful” earning of Defensive Player of the Year is on its way too — this may be the biggest overreaction of the night, but hey, it’s the preseason; what better is there to do than to overreact from basketball games that don’t count.


The starting SF spot is still up in the air

It looks like Doc Rivers is going to have some fun with this. Before the game, it was believed Wesley Johnson would receive the starting nod, but at the opening tip it was Paul Pierce on the floor, with Johnson the first man off the bench.

Reading too deeply into the Denver game to decipher who has the leg up on the other or who is the better fit with the starters/bench would lead one down a path filled with small sample sizes and knee-jerk reactions, but my guess is Rivers will alternate between the two throughout the remainder of the preseason to get a glimpse of things before the start of the regular season — I won’t go too deep into depth as an article on the same subject matter is soon on the way, but I stick with the idea of Wes being the starter with this team.

A Look at the DNP’s

Of 17 players only four received a DNP-Coach’s Decision: Cole Aldrich (injury), rookie Branden Dawson, and bigs Chuck Hayes and Nikoloz Tskitishvili. The DNP’s could be meaningless– outside of Aldrich, the other two (one of Nikoloz and Chuck will/may make the team) won’t break into the rotation barring a tragedy that rips the core+five apart.

There is a chance Dawson, Hayes, and Nikoloz go without minutes the entire postseason as the Clippers’ championship hopes lie on the bench getting things in order.

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Ending Synopsis

The Clippers pretty much looked like how you expect a team with their issues to look in the first game of the season. The foundation seems to be ahead of the curve, which bodes well anything on top of that is still settling in. If everything is a mirror replicate of itself by the end of the preseason, there’ll be question; none too defining of how the season may play out, but questions nonetheless.


With that said, on to Game 2 in Canada where Los Angeles’ll take on the Toronto Raptors (will get a first look at newcomer DeMarre Carroll) at 4:00 p.m. Pacific time (7:00 p.m. Eastern Standard time) on October 4.

Next: Power ranking every Clippers player: Who's their MVP?