NBA Betting – Denver Nuggets @ Los Angeles Clippers Odds, Free Picks and Predictions – NBA Picks and Odds 2/2/12: Two of the top teams in the Western Conference will go head to head Thursday night on TNT, when the Denver Nuggets (14-7) go on the road to face the Los Angeles Clippers (13-6). The suddenly dangerous Clippers enter the matchup leading the Pacific Division, while the Nuggets have the second-best record in the conference but trail the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Northwest Division. Denver has been one of the better road teams in the NBA this season, but the Clippers have been nearly unbeatable at home, compiling a 10-2 mark. As a result, Los Angeles is a 2 ½-point favorite in this matchup.

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Thursday’s game is actually the second meeting between the two franchises within a week. The Clippers went into Denver last Sunday and knocked off the Nuggets 109-105. Los Angeles guard Chauncey Billups played a big role in deciding the outcome, scoring 32 points on the strength of six 3-pointers. His backcourt mate Chris Paul added 25 of his own, as the Nuggets had no answer for the Clippers’ dynamic duo.

Los Angeles should enjoy a similar advantage in the frontcourt Thursday. Paul and Billups are both points guards, and having the two on the court at the same time gives the Clippers two proven floor generals making decisions. Both players recognize mismatches and are adept at exploiting them, and against Denver, Paul and Billups know they have an edge on the offensive end. Denver guards Andre Miller and Ty Lawson are strong offensive players in their own right, but neither player is a lockdown defender. As a result, Paul and Billups were able to score early and often in Sunday’s victory, and there is no reason they shouldn’t do the same Thursday.

For Denver, establishing center power forward Nene Hilario has been the challenge all season. Despite shooting almost 54 percent from the field and having a unique combination of strength and skill around in the rim, Hilario is averaging less than 15 points per game this season. He needs assert himself in the post Thursday and needs to get Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan into foul trouble. Jordan blocked five shots in Los Angeles’ victory Sunday, forcing the Nuggets to become a perimeter-oriented team. Denver is at its best when it is running up and down the court, slashing to the basket and getting to the foul line.

Aside from Hilario needing to be more aggressive, the bigger issue facing Denver is the overall athleticism of the Clippers. The Nuggets are averaging an NBA-best 105.4 points per game this season. With Lawson pushing the tempo from the point guard position and lengthy wing players like Danilo Gallinari and Al Harrington running the floor, Denver has been able to tire out opponents and create easy scoring chances. However, Los Angeles is able to match the Nuggets’ athleticism with players like Jordan and highlight machine Blake Griffin. The Clippers’ ability to keep pace was on full display last Sunday, when they matched Denver point for point and emerged victorious in a high-scoring game.

The X-factor in the game could be Clippers’ guard Mo Williams. Los Angeles doesn’t have a lot of depth, but Williams is providing almost 15 points per game off the bench, giving Los Angeles the option to rest Paul and Billups sporadically throughout the game. Against a team like Denver that wants to push the tempo, Williams allows the Clippers to keep their starting backcourt well rested.

In the end, Los Angeles is a matchup nightmare for a Denver team that makes a living off of creating mismatches. The Nuggets don’t have the perimeter defenders to slow down Paul and Billups, and both players are equally dangerous scoring and distributing. The Clippers have more than enough firepower to compete with the Denver offense, and with Paul and Billups getting wherever they want on the floor, there should be plenty of easy buckets to go around for Los Angeles.

Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers (-1) Cover the Spread

Current Odds: Favorite - LA Clippers -1 Total - OVER/UNDER 206

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