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Nuggets, Clippers aim to take step forward

LOS ANGELES -- While the Denver Nuggets will look to take another step forward and into the playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers will search for an identity as the 2018-19 NBA season kicks off for both teams Wednesday at Staples Center.

The Nuggets narrowly missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons and look to have what it takes to extend their season behind guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray, not to mention center Nikola Jokic.

The Clippers will use something of the same backcourt/center formula, although in guards Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley, it will be more of a defensive focus. New big man Marcin Gortat will be the go-to player in the middle with the departure of DeAndre Jordan.

The Clippers tried a similar backcourt plan last year, but early-season injuries to Beverley and Austin Rivers led to a season of exploration that ended with a surprisingly solid 42-40 record. Rivers was traded to the Washington Wizards for Gortat.

That the Clippers still managed to finish with a seventh-consecutive winning season was the reason head coach Doc Rovers was lauded for the job he did in 2017-18. He has coached five of those seven-consecutive Clippers winning seasons.

"You can be patient in some areas, and in some areas, you shouldn't be patient," Rivers said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "You shouldn't be patient, from a coaching perspective, if we're not good at getting back on defense. I'm not going be patient about that. ... It's proven around the league, if you give up a lot of corner threes and they're making them, and you don't get back on defense, you're probably not going win a lot of games."

The Nuggets missed the playoffs last season by the slimmest of margins, losing the Minnesota Timberwolves on the final day of the regular season.

That experience should pay dividends for a Nuggets team that finished 46-36 last season. They are not in the upper echelon of a strong Western Conference, but they have the talent to be just below that group and among playoff-eligible teams.

With coach Mike Malone now in his fourth season, the Nuggets know what to expect from their coach and have had plenty of time in his system. Will Barton and Paul Millsap will round out the Nuggets starters as Denver looks to reach the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Millsap missed 44 games last season with a wrist injury.

"We have to understand, it's never about who we're playing," Malone said, according to the Denver Post. "Hold ourselves to a higher standard, make sure we're playing the way that we want to play and if you truly have playoff aspirations, that'll be dictated by your everyday actions. How badly do you want it? It can't be just talk."

The Nuggets have the kind of offense and 3-point shooting that will test the Clippers' defensive acumen quickly. On offense, the Clippers don't have the chemistry that the Nuggets have, with Gortat saying it could take as many as 30 games to find a flow.

Step 1 of the process begins Thursday for both teams.

Updated October 16, 2018

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