LOS ANGELES -- Each freshly tested by the same opponent, the visiting Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers will enter their latest meeting knowing their offenses are in sync but that their defenses that could use a little fine tuning.
The Nuggets will bring a four-game winning streak into Staples Center, as well as the best record in the Western Conference, coming off a 126-118 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.
The Clippers, atop the Western Conference as recently as the beginning of the month before a recent slide, are coming off a 125-121 victory over the Mavericks on Thursday that ended their four-game losing streak.
Instrumental in the Clippers' visit back to the win column was the return of Lou Williams, who had missed the previous four games with a hamstring issue. Williams' return was seamless as one of the league's top-scoring bench players registered 26 points, half of which came in the deciding fourth quarter.
"I think it just gives us confidence when we have him on the floor," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Williams' return. "It is not that you are going to go to him, but he is going to be involved. It gives us closure at the end of the game."
Indeed, the Clippers saw just how much closure Williams provides. In the fourth quarter, the Mavericks erased all of a 13-point Clippers lead. But Los Angeles regained lead for good with just over three minutes remaining, fittingly on two Williams free throws.
The Nuggets' Nikola Jokic continues to show how indispensable he has become. He is coming off a dominating outing against the Mavericks when he had 32 points and 16 rebounds.
Jokic has a double-double in each of the Nuggets' four consecutive victories and has not scored less than 24 points in any of those games. And that doesn't even account for Jokic's career-best 7.4 assists per game, which is tied for ninth best in the NBA.
His elite-level play has helped the Nuggets to not only play well despite injuries to Paul Millsap (foot), Gary Harris (hip), Will Barton (hip), Michael Porter Jr. (back) and Isaiah Thomas (hip), but to thrive.
"I think Nikola is showing everybody in the NBA, with three starters out, that he is a most valuable player candidate," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, according to the Denver Post. "Not just from a stats standpoint, but he does it every single night in so many different ways. That's why he's a special player."
The Nuggets are 21-9, matching the 1976-77 team for best 30-game start in franchise history. If there is an area that needs work, it is with their 8-6 road record.
The Nuggets lost each of their last two road games, at Atlanta and Charlotte, and will head to Los Angeles to face a Clippers team that had its nine-game home winning streak snapped earlier this month.
Even in losing six of the last eight games, the Clippers are 18-13. While Williams has returned, forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who has missed almost the entire season, remains out with a knee injury.