Two of the Western Conference heavyweights matchup on Thursday night when the LA Clippers welcome the Denver Nuggets to the Staples Center. The last time these sides met was on Christmas Day, when the Clippers ran out as 121-108 victors.
Fast forward to the final month and a half of the season, the Denver Nuggets only trail their opponents by two-and-a-half games in the West. The Nuggets come into this matchup on a three-game winning streak.
The LA Clippers come into this matchup on the back of a loss to Orlando in which they were significantly shorthanded due to injuries.
Fixture: Denver Nuggets vs. LA Clippers Prediction - NBA Season 2020-21
Date & Time: Thursday, April 1st, 2021, 10:00 PM ET. (Friday, April 2nd, 7:30 AM IST)
Venue: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Denver Nuggets Preview
The Denver Nuggets are causing problems at the moment and are in pole position to disrupt the West's current top four. All three of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. have averaged over 20 points per game this month - a month in which the Nuggets have won 11 of 14 matchups.
That has brought the Denver Nuggets up to within a game of the LA Lakers, who are struggling to hold onto their fourth seed without LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Should they continue their form, the Nuggets could be a shoo-in to take home-court advantage going into the playoffs - something they have succeeded at doing in the past two seasons.
Key Player - Nikola Jokic
Despite being the Denver Nuggets' primary threat prior to this season, Nikola Jokic has taken his game to all new levels this campaign in search of an MVP award. Relied upon for additional minutes, Jokic is taking 3.8 additional attempts per matchup and connecting with a career-high 57.1%.
Jokic's offensive rating is wildly more explosive than in previous seasons at 131, and he has a league-high 10.7 win share. Not only has Jokic's shooting improved, but his ability to spread the floor and lead the plays on offense has increased his assist percentage to 39.5% of all Denver Nuggets made field-goals.
Without Jokic - particularly at the start of the season - the Nuggets would be well off the pace. Looking ahead to the playoffs, the Serbian is the franchise's cheat code. Coach Michael Malone will be aiming to use the advantage Jokic holds over all other Western Conference centers as the best in his position.
Denver Nuggets Predicted Lineup
Point Guard - Jamal Murray | Shooting Guard - Will Barton | Small Forward - Michael Porter Jr. | Power Forward - Aaron Gordon | Center - Nikola Jokic
LA Clippers Preview
Coming out of the All-Star break, the LA Clippers have gone 8-3 and look to be back to their consistent best. The Orlando Magic ended their six-game winning run on Tuesday; however, four of coach Tyronn Lue's regular starters were sidelined for the fixture.
Even against a full-strength Bucks side, the second-string LA Clippers came away with a dominant 129-105 win, with four of their five starters scoring 20+ points each. That was a prime example of the depth the Clippers currently have on offense. They hold the second-highest efficiency in the NBA on that side of the offensive side of the ball.
Adding Rajon Rondo will be a huge infusion of experience in the LA Clippers locker room come the postseason. Meanwhile, the potential 10-day contract given to DeMarcus Cousins could be an intriguing development, adding depth to their frontcourt.
Key Player - Kawhi Leonard
Over the last four matchups, Kawhi Leonard has averaged 26 points and 6.2 rebounds, helping the LA Clippers overcome both the 76ers and Bucks comfortably. The Claw will be the go-to-guy yet again in this matchup, as he seeks to exploit Denver Nuggets new signing Aaron Gordon on defense.
In another All-Star season for the LA Clippers, Kawhi has done it all on both ends of the court yet again. He is scoring the ball at his highest rate since 2014 (51.5%) and continues to grab his career-average of 1.8 steals a night.
Although Leonard's defensive rating is at an all-time worst at 109, his offensive rating has dramatically risen to 126 per 100 possessions, 9 up on last year.
LA Clippers Predicted Lineup
Point Guard - Reggie Jackson | Shooting Guard - Luke Kennard | Small Forward - Nicolas Batum | Power Forward - Kawhi Leonard | Center - Ivica Zubac
Nuggets vs. Clippers Match Prediction
With a bottom third defense, the Denver Nuggets are going to struggle against the LA Clippers' scoring options on Thursday, particularly since they are on the road. With Paul George still questionable at the time of writing, the Nuggets will be looking at Jamal Murray to dominate the backcourt.
Young LA Clippers center Ivica Zubac will be in for a tough night against Jokic. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard will be looking to expose the inexperience in the Denver Nuggets' forward partnership.
We expect the LA Clippers to secure a narrow victory in this one.
Where to watch the Nuggets vs. Clippers Matchup
Coverage of Thursday night's marquee game will be shown on Bally Sports SoCal and nationally on NBA TNT. Otherwise, fans can stream the fixture live with an NBA League Pass.