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Clippers’ rematch with Nuggets is a chance to measure up

Funny how winning, even one game, can ease the pain of a sore ankle. Clippers veteran Nicolas Batum has been nursing a sprained ankle, but when asked two days after snapping a six-game losing streak, how he was feeling he said, “We are on the winning streak, so yeah, I’m good.”

The entire team needs that kind of positive outlook with the Denver Nuggets next up on the schedule. The Nuggets, who lead the Western Conference and are tied for the league’s second-best record at 28-13, blasted the Clippers a week ago, beating them by 31 points in Denver.

So complete was their meltdown, Coach Tyronn Lue benched his starters after the first half, saying he and his coaching staff went to the drawing board “three or four times.” Nothing he tried made a difference in the outcome, though.

“I felt good about it going into it, but I didn’t feel good after it,” Lue said Thursday.

The Clippers (22-21) have a chance to avenge that loss when the Nuggets visit Crypto.com Arena on Friday night, giving them a chance to “see what we’re made of,” Lue said.

“They beat us by 40 on their home floor. They kicked our butt,” Lue said. “So, tomorrow, (we have to go in) being ready and having a different mindset.”

Batum, who sat out the Jan. 5 game because of his ankle, called the Nuggets one of the best teams in the NBA at the moment.

“They got the best player in the NBA, and they have a great group. So, we can’t let them play the way they want,” Batum said. “… It won’t be easy for sure because they play so well as a team.”

The Nuggets are led by center Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 24.9 points, 11 rebounds, 9.4 assists and 1.4 steals. But the two-time league MVP is not the only player the Clippers need to focus on.

In the previous game, Jamal Murray led a group of seven players who scored in double figures in the 122-91 victory as the Clippers’ defense lapsed, especially when the second unit was on the floor.

Lue has been inserting a three-guard lineup when the starters are out, giving opponents a clear path to the basket. Lue abandoned that scheme in Tuesday’s 113-101 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

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“When you’re small, you got to be there early to try to take away guys from getting to the basket at the launching pad,” Lue said. “So, we have to be better with that. But I think it starts with our point of attack defense, one-on-one defense.”

The coach also employed a starting lineup the past two games that featured Kawhi Leonard, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac and Nicolas Batum – an all-wing lineup. Without a starting point guard (Mann replaced Reggie Jackson), the Clippers were able to get off to a quicker pace and outscore their opponents by 12 points.

The Clippers are expected to employ that lineup at least until All-Star Paul George (hamstring) and Luke Kennard (ankle) are healthy. The two got shots up during Thursday’s practice, but Lue said he wasn’t sure if either would be available Friday.

“Thing for us is that we’re so small that it hurts us defensively,” Lue said. “It hurts us as far as rebounding the basketball. So, just doing some things differently. It doesn’t mean Reggie is done, nothing like that. I’m just looking at some things different to do and throw out there.

“It’s been pretty good the last couple games. We just have to see (what happens) moving forward.”

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