The Daily Sweat: Clippers host Nuggets in a big Western Conference matchup

Can the Clippers avoid dropping to .500 on Friday night?

Los Angeles hosts the Denver Nuggets (10 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the marquee NBA game of the day. Denver is a 1.5-point favorite on the road and is tied with the Memphis Grizzlies atop the Western Conference.

Denver’s place in the standings is largely buoyed by its success at home. The Nuggets are 18-3 at home and just 10-10 on the road.

The Clippers are 22-21 and are currently a game ahead of the Suns for the No. 6 seed. That’s important because the top six teams in each conference are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Teams Nos. 7-10 play in the play-in tournament for the final two seeds.

Los Angeles is 1.5 games back of the Kings for fifth in the West and just two games ahead of Portland in 11th. The West is extremely close at the moment. The Thunder and Lakers are a half game behind the Blazers and just a game back of the Timberwolves in 10th.

That’s why a win for Los Angeles is huge on Friday night. The Clippers snapped a six-game losing streak on Tuesday with a 113-101 home win over the Dallas Mavericks to get back above .500. Los Angeles was 21-15 after beating the Raptors on the road before losses to the Celtics, Pacers, Heat, Nuggets, Timberwolves and Hawks.

That Nuggets loss was not close either. Denver blitzed Los Angeles from the start of that game on the way to an easy 122-91 home win. The Nuggets outscored the Clippers by 34 points in the first half as LA quickly realized the game was out of hand and played both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George less than 20 minutes each.

Leonard and George are both healthy and should play a lot more on Friday night. We like over 225.5 points a lot in this game. It feels like Denver has Los Angeles’ number, though we think the Clips will be a lot more competitive than they were in that 31-point loss.

DENVER, COLORADO - JANUARY 05: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets is guarded by Terance Mann #14 of the Los Angeles Clippers at Ball Arena on January 05, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets beat the Los Angeles Clippers by 31 a week ago. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Elsewhere in the NBA

The Suns head to Minnesota as 3.5-point dogs in a pivotal matchup among teams currently positioned in the play-in tournament. Both teams are without their stars as Phoenix is trying to stay afloat without Devin Booker and Minnesota vacillates between winning streaks and losing streaks. The Wolves had a four-game win streak snapped earlier this week with a 17-point road loss to the Pistons.

That Pistons loss snapped a four-game win streak that came after a six-game losing streak. Minnesota had won three consecutive games before that losing streak and had lost three consecutive games before it won three straight.

The Bulls are 4.5-point favorites at home against a Thunder team that’s really fun to watch and ahead of schedule on its rebuild. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has become one of the best guards in the NBA and can seemingly get into the paint at will. The Thunder are in the midst of a back-to-back after beating the 76ers by 19 points on Thursday night.

Jordan Spieth becomes Sony Open favorite

Jordan Spieth shot a 6-under 64 in the first round of the Sony Open to take the co-lead with Chris Kirk and Taylor Montgomery.

Spieth is now at +400 to win the tournament ahead of Montgomery at +800 and Harris English at +1600. English is a stroke back of the lead.

Most golfers got the first round over with on Thursday but a few still need to finish after play was suspended for darkness. That includes S.H. Kim, who is 5-under through 16 holes. Kim and English are among seven golfers who finished the day a shot back of Spieth and company.

Spieth had an early tee time on Thursday, so he’ll be playing in prime time in the continental United States on Friday night. TV coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on the Golf Channel.

Illinois favored over Michigan State

Illinois is a 5.5-point favorite at home against Michigan State (9 p.m. ET, FS1) as the Illini tries to get to 3-3 in Big Ten play. Michigan State is tied with Purdue atop the conference at 4-1 and has won seven consecutive games overall after opening conference play with a loss to Northwestern.

Illinois also lost to Northwestern on Jan. 4 but has wins over Wisconsin and Nebraska since.

Purdue is a 15.5-point favorite over the Huskers at home. Nebraska is 2-4 in the Big Ten and 9-8 overall.

Who cashed tickets Thursday?

Thunder bettors were happy with OKC’s win and Mavericks bettors got a big win in double-overtime in a 119-115 win over the Lakers. Cleveland beat Portland by six on the road and Boston took down a Kevin Durant-less Brooklyn by 11 points on the road.