Two teams with high expectations heading into this season are trying to turn things around in the final weeks of the campaign.
The Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets are both stumbling to the end of 2021-22 and losing ground in the playoff race. L.A. has lost three in a row while Denver has lost two straight, as each team entered Monday currently in the play-in bracket in the Western Conference.
One of the franchises will end its skid when they meet in Denver on Tuesday night.
The Clippers are coming off a road blowout loss at Utah, 121-92, but have had three days to rest and get ready for this game while the Nuggets were routed at home by Boston 124-104 on Sunday night.
Both the Clippers and Nuggets have star players who would make a difference if they were in the lineup, and Los Angeles might get one of those back soon. Paul George, who has not played since Dec. 22 because of a right elbow injury, practiced Sunday.
Other Clippers dealing with long-term injuries — Kawhi Leonard (ACL) and Norman Powell (fractured bone, left foot) — are still not practicing and may not return at all this season. Coach Tyronn Lue said it would be tough to bring a player back for the playoffs without playing any games.
The Clippers played seven games in 11 days before the three-day break, which could have been a reason they lost by 29 to the Jazz.
“The last two weeks have been really, really tough,” Nicolas Batum said Monday. “You can watch the last game in Utah, we have nothing left. I think, it’s not like we didn’t care. We tried in Utah. We really tried, but we have nothing. … Those two, three days have been good for us. Have a good practice today and got to get back to it tomorrow.”
Denver looked like a weary team in getting rolled by the Celtics. Boston led by as many as 28 and held Nikola Jokic in check after the first quarter. Jokic had 12 points in the first 12 minutes and just 11 the rest of the way.
The Nuggets have lost four of their last six games, including three straight at home. The players held a meeting after Sunday’s loss.
“It’s a lot of conversation, a lot of addressing, a lot of telling guys,” Bones Hyland said Sunday night. “DeMarcus [Cousins], he basically sets up the whole locker room. The way we’re playing is unacceptable, we have 10 games left. He was saying, ‘We’re a game away from (the) play-in. We need to tighten up.’ It’s not like this is 10 games until the season, this is 10 games left in the season.
“We don’t want to go into the playoffs with these habits right now. We’re going to have us an early exit, so we have to tighten up right now, crack down, and really address the stuff now so when we go into the playoffs, everybody is on one accord.”
Like Los Angeles, Denver has impact players in Jamal Murray (ACL surgery) and Michael Porter Jr. (back surgery) who could return — or be sidelined until next season. Coach Michael Malone was asked if they would return or be shut down but was noncommittal.
“It’s a valid question, one that I just don’t have an answer to,” Malone said.
–Field Level Media