Nuggets-Clippers Preview

The Associated Press

Despite closing out January with back-to-back defeats, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl had nothing but praise for his team's overall effort last month.

Opening February on a high note, though, could prove difficult with a road matchup against the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers in store.

Beginning their second back-to-back-to-back stretch of the season, the Nuggets try to avoid a fourth consecutive loss to the surging Clippers when the teams meet for the second time this week Thursday night.

Two days after its season-best six-game winning streak came to an end with a 109-105 loss to Los Angeles, Denver (14-7) suffered a 100-97 overtime defeat at Memphis on Tuesday. While the Nuggets concluded January in disappointing fashion, they finished the month 12-5 to move into third place in the Western Conference. They sit just a few percentage points behind the second-place Clippers (13-6).

"We've had a great month of January," Karl told the NBA's official website. "It might have been the best month I've ever had in Denver in my mind."

Things aren't about to get any easier for Denver, which after Thursday's matchup, hosts the Lakers on Friday before visiting Portland on Saturday. The Nuggets lost the opener of their first back-to-back-to-back set Dec. 31-Jan. 2 before winning the final two games.

After posting a season-best fourth consecutive victory Wednesday, the Clippers are looking to win five in a row for the first time since Nov. 2-12, 2006.

Chris Paul recorded a season-high 34 points and 11 assists while Blake Griffin scored 31 to go along with 14 rebounds as Los Angeles defeated Utah 107-105 - snapping a 16-game road losing streak versus the Jazz.

"This was a pretty good win for us ... We didn't know the history of that (the Clippers losing 42 of their previous 43 in Salt Lake City) but it's a new team right here," Paul said.

"The sky's the limit. We have all the pieces to be a great team. We got to keep getting better defensively, but we have the closers, we have the shot blockers, we have the shooters and everything that you need."

The Clippers are averaging 106.5 points while shooting 49.5 percent from the field during their run.

"We're tired, but we have another game (Thursday) night against a very difficult opponent," coach Vinny Del Negro said of facing Denver. "We're going to have to get ready."

After spending the majority of the previous three seasons with the Nuggets before signing with Los Angeles following the lockout, Chauncey Billups made 6 of 12 from 3-point range in putting up a season-high 32 points against his former team Sunday.

Ty Lawson, who was held out of that matchup with a sprained left ankle, had 12 points versus the Grizzlies in his return from a two-game absence. Danilo Gallinari, meanwhile, was held to eight points on 1 of 10 shooting against Memphis after averaging 23.8 over his previous five games.

Andre Miller, averaging 15.1 points in his last seven contests, will play in his 1,000th regular-season game Thursday.

"It means something to me just because I enjoy being on the basketball court," he told the team's official website. "I take pride in practicing and being on the court. I don't like to miss games."

The Nuggets lead the league with 105.4 points per game.

The Clippers' Caron Butler was a late scratch Wednesday with a sore lower back. His status for Thursday is unknown.

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