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Clippers' defense remains concern in 121-100 loss to Nuggets

Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

DENVER -- Nothing much went right Thursday night for the Los Angeles Clippers against the team holding the Western Conference's best record.

Denver led by as many as 16 points in the first half and squelched every attempt at a Clippers rally in the second. After a jump shot by Tobias Harris cut Denver's lead to seven two minutes into the third quarter, the Nuggets answered with an 8-0 run in 83 seconds. The game wasn't over, but it might as well have been. Twelve Clippers turnovers limited their shots and helped Denver attempt 12 more shots.

The Nuggets won easily121-100 and avenged a blowout loss to the Clippers on Dec. 22.

To have glanced at the Clippers' schedule before the season would have been to expect many nights like this from a franchise stuck between the star-laden era it dismantled and the next it hopes to build, starting this summer.

But as the Clippers reached the first half of the NBA's regular-season, the surprise is how rarely they have experienced such outright struggles as Thursday.

"I love where we're at," coach Doc Rivers said. "We've had a couple games we haven't played great, tonight was one of them. But overall, most nights we outwork the opponent. Some nights, the shots still don't go in or we don't get stops. I think a lot of our losses are little things defensively. A few nights offensively, but overall I'll take our effort in the 41 games overall."

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Their 24-17 record, against what ESPN rates the league's fifth-hardest schedule, ties them for the eighth-best winning percentage after 41 games in franchise history.

It is not a history with much success, of course. But this Clippers iteration finished the first half only three victories behind where the last full Lob City roster was in 2016-17.

The Clippers have beaten Milwaukee, the East's best team, and registered a win against every other team joining them among the West's top eight teams. Career seasons by Harris, Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell and clutch play by Lou Williams have lifted the league's eighth most-efficient offense. Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has handled a starter's workload to mostly rave reviews.

"I don't think we should be disappointed about anything," center Marcin Gortat said. "I still think there's room to improve, there's a lot of room to improve. Nobody anticipated that we were going to be in the position we are right now so we should be happy but at the same time not satisfied."

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