When the Denver Nuggets meet the LA Clippers on Christmas Day, it will be the next episode of a budding rivalry in the Western Conference. The last time these two teams faced off, it was in a Game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals. After going 3-1 up in the series, the LA Clippers spectacularly choked.
They ultimately lost the chance to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
The two rosters look very similar to the rosters seen in the playoffs last year. Other than the LA Clippers adding former Hornets shooting guard Nicholas Batum and losing center Montrez Harrell to the Lakers, neither team made any notable moves.
The Nuggets are coming off an unfortunate overtime loss to the Kings while the LA Clippers are on a high after an opening night win against the Lakers. The LA Clippers should be the more prepared and physically rested team giving them the advantage in this matchup. Ahead of the match, here is the combined starting 5 of both Western Conference powerhouses.
Point Guard - Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets)
Between Murray and LA Clippers point guard Pat Beverley, this is not much of a competition. The fifth-year guard out of Kentucky has led the Denver Nuggets offense for three years now and has been up to the task. In the three complete seasons where Murray was the starter, he has averaged 17.7 points per game on 36.5% shooting from beyond the arc.
Murray has formed a formidable pick-and-roll duo with Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and is still improving. LA Clippers' Beverley may be more of a presence on the defensive end, but Murray plays solid defense himself. However, Beverley’s offensive output and playmaking ability are much inferior to
that of Murray’s, making the Denver Nuggets point guard the selection here.
Shooting Guard - Gary Harris (Denver Nuggets)
A closer matchup for sure but Harris comes out on top over Batum. Harris makes his impact felt on the defensive end. A lanky guard with a 6’7 wingspan, Harris constantly harasses the opposing team's ball-handler. Harris’s defensive real plus-minus (DRPM) of 1.92 ranked 4th among all shooting guards in the league last season. While not the greatest shooter from beyond the arc, Harris’s career mark of 35.9% makes him a shooter who teams must respect from the outside.
Batum is still a solid contributor to the LA Clippers but nowhere near the level of Harris. He started in just three games last season and averaged career lows in nearly every statistical category. Part of that is due to the situation he was in with the Hornets, but Harris gets the edge at this point.
Small Forward - Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)
With no hesitation, Leonard gets the edge over Denver Nuggets small forward Michael Porter Jr.. Leonard is regarded as one of the best players in the league for good reason. Offensively, he is efficient from almost anywhere on the floor.
He can operate out of the pick and roll and pull up for his patented elbow jumper or he can create separation and drain a 3 beyond the arc. He is locked down defensively as well, matching with the opposing team's best player almost every night.
Michael Porter Jr. has shown tremendous improvement since being drafted by the Nuggets in 2018. He has a remarkably polished offensive skill-set for such a young player and uses his length to be disruptive on defense. This selection is not so much a knock on Porter Jr. as it is a testament to Leonard’s greatness.