Thursday , Apr , 20 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – Denver vs. LA Clippers

***** NBA Playoff Preview – Denver vs. LA Clippers *****
From The Sports Network

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

Denver Nuggets: 3rd Seed, West (44-38)

Los Angeles Clippers: 6th Seed, West (47-35)

(Sports Network) – The sixth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers will have the
homecourt advantage when they face No. 3 Denver in the first round of the NBA
Playoffs.

This is a best-of-seven series. Denver and the Clippers are meeting for the
first time in the postseason.

The Nuggets captured the Northwest Division title this season. They won a
division crown for the first time since the 1987-88 campaign, when they
finished with a 54-28 record.

Forward Carmelo Anthony raised his game to another level this season. The
Syracuse product led the club in scoring (26.5 ppg) and hit big shot after big
shot during the campaign. He has become the player that the Nuggets thought he
would be when they drafted him with the third overall pick in the 2003 NBA
Draft.

Forward Kenyon Martin, center Marcus Camby and point guard Andre Miller team
with Anthony to give the Nuggets a formidable lineup. Camby and Martin, who
have both been hampered by injuries throughout the season, are solid defenders
and excel in transition, while Miller, who averaged a team-best 8.2 assists
per games, is a solid lead guard.

Anthony, Camby, Martin and Miller are the players that are going to have to
come to pay if the Nuggets hope to advance to the second round of the playoffs
for the first time since the 1994 postseason, when they fell in seven games to
the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals. Denver upset the Seattle
SuperSonics in five games, 3-2, in the opening round that season.

The 6-11 Camby, who led the Nuggets in rebounding (11.9 rpg) and Martin both
missed 26 games this season. Denver needs them to be healthy if they hope to
have any kind of run in the postseason.

Denver is appearing in the postseason for the third straight year. The Nuggets
fell in five games in the opening round to Minnesota in 2004 and San Antonio
in 2005.

The Clippers have returned to the playoffs for the first time since the
1996-97 campaign, when they were swept in the first round by the Utah Jazz,
3-0. In fact, the Clippers, who were the Buffalo Braves until the 1978-79
campaign, were eliminated in the opening round in 1992, 1993 and 1997.

The Braves, who became the San Diego Clippers after the 1977-78 season,
defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 2-1 in the first round of the 1975-76
playoffs for the only series victory in franchise history.

Forward Elton Brand had his best season, as he played in his second NBA All-
Star Game and ended up leading the Clippers, who in scoring (24.7 ppg) and
rebounding (10.0 rpg). The Duke product has become the team leader and is one
of the best power forwards in the league.

Corey Maggette was second on the Clippers in scoring (17.8 ppg), but missed 50
games because of injury. Veteran guards Sam Cassell, who averaged 17.2 points
in 78 games this season, and Cuttino Mobley joined the team last offseason
and have been positive additions, while center Chris Kaman has continued to
develop into an effective presence in the middle.

Vladimir Radmanovic was acquired by the Clippers from Seattle in a trade for
forward Chris Wilcox during the season. The 6-10 Radmanovic gives the Clippers
another dangerous player on the perimeter who causes matchup problems for
their opponents because of his size.

During the regular season, the Clippers won three of the four meetings between
the clubs. The teams split a pair of games at Denver, while the Clippers won a
pair at the Staples Center.

FRONTCOURT: Camby, Anthony and Martin makeup a solid starting frontcourt for
the Nuggets. Anthony is a pure scorer and has become the team leader, while
Camby and Martin provide defensive intensity and can get out in transition
which makes the Nuggets very effective in the open court.

Denver acquired forwards Reggie Evans, who was with Seattle, and Ruben
Patterson, who was a member of Portland, at the trade deadline in a four-team,
nine player deal. The 6-8 Evans gives Denver a solid rebounder, while
Patterson is a decent defender who can score. They will be asked to play big
minutes in the playoffs.

Francisco Elson will also get some minutes behind Camby. The 7-0 Elson is most
effective around the basket and could be a factor if Camby or Martin is not
100 percent healthy.

The Clippers matchup very well up front with Denver. Brand will be the best
scorer in the low post in the series, while Kaman will have to be very
physical against the more-athletic Camby.

Brand, who gets his first taste of the postseason, will get his points and
rebounds. He should flourish in the half-court game that takes over in the
playoffs. But Kaman, Radmanovic, Zeljko Rebraca and Quinton Ross are going to
have to hold their own against the athleticism of Denver’s frontcourt.

If the Nuggets are healthy, they get the edge here. But they are banged up and
injury-prone. Call it even.

EDGE: EVEN

BACKCOURT: The 29-year-old Miller, who averaged 13.7 points per game, had a
solid campaign for the Nuggets. He was the only Nugget to play in every
regular-season contest. The Utah product was consistent and gave head coach
George Karl a reliable player to run the point and control the offensive
tempo.

Greg Buckner, DerMarr Johnson and Howard Eisley team with Miller to makeup
Denver’s backcourt. Eisley will backup Miller, while Buckner and Johnson take
up the minutes at shooting guard. Buckner is known for his defense and Johnson
is also a decent defender and can score in a fast-paced contest.

Cassell, who was acquired in a trade from Minnesota, and Mobley, who was
inked as a free agent, turned out be great pickups for the Clippers
during last offseason. They could be even more valuable in the postseason, as
the 36-year-old Cassell has played in 103 postseason contests during his
career and has won two world championships as a member of the Houston
Rockets, while Mobley, who contributed 14.8 points per game in his first
season with the Clippers, has played in 14 playoff games.

Both Mobley and Cassell are clutch players and have led by example this season
for a younger player like Shaun Livingston, who is playing in his second
season in the league and will play big minutes behind Cassell.

If Maggette is healthy, he could be the player that pushes the Clippers over
the top in this series. He is explosive in the open court and is very
effective driving to the hoop.

EDGE: CLIPPERS

COACH:

Karl, who became the head coach of the Nuggets on January 27, 2005, finished
his first full season as the leader of the Nuggets. He has plenty of playoff
experience and has an impressive resume. Karl guided Milwaukee to four playoff
berths and compiled a 205-173 mark in five seasons with the Bucks. Before
joining Milwaukee, Karl coached the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors
and Seattle, leading the SuperSonics to the 1996 NBA Finals, only to lose to
the Chicago Bulls in six games. The Nuggets’ general knows what it takes to
win in the playoffs and will have to play a big part if he hopes to get Denver
past the first round for the first time in 12 years.

Mike Dunleavy finished his third season as the head coach of the Clippers and
13th in the NBA. He has also coached the Lakers, Milwaukee and Portland.
Dunleavy, who has a 31-28 record on the bench in the postseason, may have done
his best job on the bench and is one of the favorites to win NBA Coach of the
Year. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Dunleavy guided the Lakers to the NBA
Finals in the 1990-91 campaign, only to lose in five games to the Bulls.

EDGE: EVEN

PREDICTION: It’s hard to believe, but the sixth-seeded Clippers are the better
team in this series. If the Nuggets are 100 percent healthy, their
frontcourt could give the Clippers fits. However, the playoffs are won down
low and Brand is the best low-post player in this series. Also, not having
the homecourt advantage will come back to haunt the third-seeded Nuggets in
the end.

CLIPPERS IN SEVEN

DEN LAC