Saturday night, the Clippers and Nuggets met in the neutral City of Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay to play what was not only this season’s first game between two NBA teams, but the first ever NBA game to be played on the Vegas Strip. As interesting a preseason contest as one could possibly hope for? Maybe, but it turns out that this was merely the tip of the iceberg.
Predictably, the game got off to a sloppy start. Turnovers piled up quickly as players tried their damnedest to shake off the rust, but all the while there was a certain energy in the building that isn’t typical of an exhibition contest. Out of sync as they were, guys looked excited to be out there playing ball. This energy (in conjunction with the turnovers) helped to spawn a fair bit of up-and-down action, resulting in a relatively-high-scoring affair that captivated my attention from beginning to end. On this paticular night, “beginning to end” was a period of 48 minutes during which 23 players took the floor, many of whom left me with some sort of positive impression. Being that so many guys got involved, I think there’s only one way to break this one down, and that’s player-by-player.
DeAndre Jordan: DJ had a strong game, finishing with 14 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 blocks. He was especially active throughout the first quarter and made what was arguably his finest play on the game’s very first possession. To put his Clippers up 2-0, Jordan posted on the right block and received an entry pass just outside the paint. He felt his man, turned, up faked, and stepped through for a monstrous two-handed jam. This type of one-on-one play is completely uncharacteristic of Jordan, yet he looked very comfortable with this particular move. While one successful post up hardly makes a man Hakeem Olajuwon, it does show that DJ has been practicing this offseason (I’ve probably watched almost every game he’s played in the NBA, and I’d never seen him do anything like this).
Later, Jordan returned to the same block and went to his off-hand hook. The result was not so pretty this time around… an air ball that sailed right over the iron. However, during the latter part of the third, DeAndre sparked an individual surge by sinking this same exact shot over the long arm of JaVale McGee, whom he proceeded to completely tool on for about a minute straight. Following the hook, DJ swatted an attempted answer by McGee, dunked at the other end, and ran back down the floor to stuff McGee once again. He capped the emphatic sequence by mean mugging and strutting arrogantly towards his own bench.
JaVale McGee: This seems like as good a time as any to mention McGee, who did next to nothing (4 points, 2 rebounds) in 17 minutes. Aside from the key fourth-quarter field goal he hit to help the Nuggets maintain a small lead, I can’t recall any single contribution from JaVale. For whatever reason, it seems that DeAndre has his number (absolutely destroyed him in Washington last season).
Andre Iguodala: Iggy was kind of quiet in his Denver debut, scoring just 8 points in 25 minutes, but he did demonstrate a couple of tendencies with which Nuggets fans will soon become very familiar. On the positive side of things, he played a passing lane to perfection and cashed in with a fast-break dunk. On the not-so-positive side, he airmailed his first shot, a three-pointer from the wing. It’s called “the patented Iguodala air ball,” Denver, and you best get used to it.
Jordan Hamilton: J-Ham came off the bench to score 17 points, all but 2 of which came in the first half. He was a key factor in helping the Nuggets build a double-digit lead as stepped in and drained four long balls in what seemed like 30 seconds. He kind of disappeared in the second half, but George Karl had to like what he saw from the second-year swingman.
Eric Bledsoe: “Mini LeBron” put up the line of the game, which reads 25/8/6. All three were Clipper highs, and the 25 points were a game high. He started in place of Chris Paul and was active throughout at both ends of the floor. Always a defensive game changer, EB threw in 5 steals for good measure. He also scored a difficult reverse layup to tie the score with 3 seconds to go. Player of the game, without a doubt.
Jamal Crawford: Word on the street is that George Karl thinks quite highly of his rookie point guard, Evan Fournier. Jamal Crawford, on the other hand, regards him as a Washington General. Having entered an NBA game for the first time in his life, Fournier was given the unenviable task of keeping himself between Crawford and the basket. Poor kid got run through the spin cycle on his first defensive possession, resulting in an old-fashioned three-point play for Jamal, who proceeded to toy with him right through the halftime buzzer. Before the two made their way to their respective locker rooms, Crawford had already shown Fournier his wrap-around move and stuck a buzzer-beater in his mug. Honestly, I’m not even sure it was that Fournier’s defense was bad… it was just that Jamal Crawford’s offense was better.
Later, Crawford would score 8 consecutive LA points in the final two minutes. He was largely responsible for making a game of this affair, and finished with 19/5 on 7-14. Solid, solid debut… he couldn’t possibly have put on a more effective demonstration of his skill set.
Evan Fournier: See Jamal Crawford.
Danilo Gallinari: The Rooster did a fair bit of play-making (5 assists) as he scored a quiet 15. Had a forgettable moment at the stripe with just seconds remaining, when he could’ve iced the game by making a pair. Instead, he clunked the first one hard off the front of the iron.
Blake Griffin: Caught a spectacular lob from his new teammate, Jamal Crawford. Missed four of six free throws (the hitch in his release remains present). That’s about it.
Timofey Mozgov: Mozgov produced nothing but a mere 2 points and 3 rebounds, but he may be responsible for the only moment from this game that I never forget. At some point during the second half, Mozgov took off in transition and dropped a behind-the-back pass into the hands of a moving Nugget. It was actually a pretty fine pass, and it may have led to a score… except he ran somebody over as he threw it.
I suppose it’s also worth noting that Mozgov avoided being Mozgov’d. That’s always a plus.
Kosta Koufos: Started the game at center. Made a nice hook shot. Finished with six points and eight boards. Still has an uglier hairline than LeBron.
Kenneth Faried: The Manimal played a little bit erratically at times, but he was certainly active, finishing with 18 points. Oddly, though, he only recorded one rebound. I’d say his best play was a driving reverse dunk that made Blake Griffin’s post defense look especially terrible. His worst play was probably an errant outlet pass that bounced about five feet in front of its intended target, one of the officials.
Caron Butler: Tough Juice had a routine game; 10 points on 10 shots. As usual, he took too many contested mid-range jumpers for my liking… but he did run off three in a row early in the second half.
Willie Green: Played like Caron Butler, except none of his shots went in (2-8, 5 points).
Ronny Turiaf: Turiaf played 23 minutes and came up with two boards and a blocked shot. It was a nice block (off the glass), but that’s not going to cut it if he’s looking to crack the rotation for a team with this much depth.
Anthony Randolph: Denver’s new enigma made his first four shots, then missed his last three. All in all, he played pretty well in 18 minutes. He had a fantastic block on a Ryan Hollins dunk attempt and showed some range on his jumper, making him look awfully versatile.
Corey Brewer: Corey Brewer did what Corey Brewer does, which is come in off the bench and run the floor. Having paid attention to his solid play throughout last season, I wasn’t at all surprised to look at the box score and find that he’d scored 16 points, even though I only remember one of his baskets.
Anthony Carter: What did Anthony Carter do? Nothing to make up for his role in the ’09 WCFs. Cut this man.
Matt Barnes: He struggled with his shot in the early going, but Barnes actually played a pretty good floor game and hit some big threes down the stretch. Possibly the most impressive thing he did was refrain from getting ejected after a semi-hard foul by JaVale McGee during an attempted layup. He actually finished with 15 points on 3-5 from distance.
Ryan Hollins: First technical foul of the preseason? Leave that to Ryan Hollins.
Lamar Odom: LO went 1-5, but he was able to play 14 minutes and 26 seconds without vomiting, collapsing, or taking oxygen. It’s a start.
Hank Thorns: Everybody ought to salute Vinny Del Negro for putting this training camp invitee in the game. He’s a Vegas kid—the cousin on CJ Watson, as a matter of fact—and he had family and friends in attendance. In a brief, five-minute stint he was able to knock down a pair of jumpers and handle the ball a little bit. Although you know he’s not going to make the team, you had to feel happy for Hank Thorns. Keep on working, little fella’ (he’s 5’9″).
Ty Lawson: For the better part of the evening, Ty Lawson may have been the least-enthusiastic player on the floor. He spent the majority of the game racking up six turnovers, then, suddenly, he decided to bust out a ridiculous leaping bounce pass and casually drive the lane for the game-winning layup. Had this been a regular-season game, there would’ve been outrage over some possible clock issues (the scoreboard showed 1.9 seconds left; the shot clock showed 3.something), but it’s preseason and no one really cared.
All in all, this was about as excellent a preseason game as I’ve ever seen. The fact that I’m writing about it just four hours before I have to get up and go to work demonstrates precisely how entertaining it really was.
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