Clippers solve Nuggets, end 8-game losing streak vs. champs – Press Enterprise

LOS ANGELES — The Clippers couldn’t beat the Denver Nuggets without Nikola Jokic and they certainly have had trouble beating them with the 6-foot-11 center on the floor. There has been no getting around that fact, or him in the past.

But after an inauspicious start, in which they fell behind as many as 15 points, the Clippers took advantage of a rare off night by the two-time league MVP to beat the Nuggets, 111-102, on Wednesday at Arena.

The victory snapped the Clippers’ eight-game losing streak against the reigning NBA champions and was only their second win in the past 13 meetings.

“Any win, you take any win, but this is one team that definitely has our numbers,” said Clippers star Paul George, who had a game-high 25 points and was 5 for 9 from 3-point range. “It was a sigh of relief – we talked about it after the game – that we finally beat ’em. It’s one game and there’s no significance other than beating a team that has been giving it to us for two years. So, this was a great win.”

Since stringing together three wins in a row last month, the Clippers have been stuck on a cycle of a win one, lose one. They hadn’t been able to put together two good games in a row until Wednesday night.

“We just got to play better,” Coach Tyronn Lue said.

The Clippers did play better. In fact, they kept the pressure on the Nuggets for the final two quarters, and Ivica Zubac kept Jokic off-balance for much of the game. The big man made just nine of his 32 shots for 22 points but had 15 rebounds and 10 assists for another triple-double.

Lue said he thought Zubac did a good job of being physical on Jokic, whose 21 missed shots were the most in his career.

“A lot of times, Zu doesn’t contest his shots because Joker is great at drawing fouls and getting you in the air,” Lue said. “So, we’ve just been making a conscious effort just making sure that when he does shoot it, even though one leg fadeaways he can make those shots, just contest the shot.”

George echoed Lue.

“Jokic is so good at creating shots and being uncanny with those shots and I thought Zu did a great job of being in position not to give him easy looks at the rim,” George said. “A lot of his shots, the floaters and none of them were easy layups, so I thought that was a big difference in the success we had tonight.”

Zubac (10 points, nine rebounds, one blocked shot) wasn’t the only player who altered the outcome.

James Harden had 20 points and 11 assists, Kawhi Leonard finished with 17 points and Norman Powell also had 17 points off the bench. Leonard’s back-to-back baskets down the stretch gave the Clippers a 99-93 lead that they never relinquished. Backup center Daniel Theis added 11 rebounds and eight points as the Clippers got back to .500 at 10-10.

“To bounce back and beat Sacramento (on the road last week), beat Golden State the other night (Saturday), it’s coming,” Lue said of the team finding some consistency since the early-season trade for Harden. “I give those guys for just staying patient. I think we found who we are and how we want to play. Tonight was a big step in the right direction.”

The Clippers cranked up the pace of play in the final quarter, never giving the Western Conference-leading Nuggets room to gain traction. They consistently attacked Denver inside, showing a stringent defense that at times this season has been lacking.

“We still want to come in and be a defensive team first, even though we got a lot of talent offensively,” Leonard said. “But I feel like defense wins championships and you got to get a buy-in on that end and have attention to detail and that could get your offense going for you.”

The Nuggets held an 82-79 lead at the start of the final quarter. Russell Westbrook scored the first five points of the period to push the Clippers ahead at 84-82. From there, it was a struggle for both teams to gain more than a three-point advantage.

After sitting out to start the fourth, Jokic came back in, along with Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon. The Clippers countered by bringing Harden and Zubac back with 7:02 left to play. Neither team was willing to give in.

“We hung in there. We stuck together,” George said in an on-court interview afterward. “We made stops.”

Jokic opened the game by hitting five of his first eight shots, seemingly making up for his absence the last time these teams met at Arena, just last week. He had 12 points and eight rebounds by halftime.

Jokic, along with Murray and Gordon, sat out that previous meeting nine days ago. The Clippers saw that one as a chance to end their frustrating streak against the reigning NBA champions, but it didn’t happen. Reggie Jackson and DeAndre Jordan, two former Clippers, picked up the slack left by the trio and handed the Clippers another loss in their head-to-head series, 113-104.

Unlike their previous matchups, though, the Clippers didn’t blink this time. They kept their eye on the possibility of a victory against their nemesis and got into a rhythm in the second quarter.

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