Okla. City Thunder (36-23, 17-12 road) at Denver Nuggets (39-21, 25-5 home)
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 106.7 (16th), Nuggets – 111.8 (2nd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.0 (3rd), Nuggets – 107.2 (16th)
Pace: Thunder – 92.8 (14th), Nuggets – 95.1 (5th)
View from the enemy: Roundball Mining Company
Oh boy. This is one of those where you can feel a little extra buzz to it. You know it’s important because you know the entire league is paying attention. Oklahoma City is actually just 2.5 games back of Denver for the Northwest Division lead. You’ve got Carmelo Anthony vs. Kevin Durant. You’ve got old and crafty (Chauncey Billups) vs. young and exciting (Russell Westbrook). You’ve got two teams trending upwards and making their strongest push of the season at the right time. Safe to say, this should be a fun game.
What’s scary, is how poorly the Thunder has played in Denver. Since moving to OKC, the Thunder are 0-3 and none of the games have been close. It’s a tough place to play and a lot of that has to do with the elevation. It really is an issue. Most say you need a full day to really adapt to it but with the Thunder coming in on a back-to-back, there wasn’t any time for the team to get acclimated. So it’s a huge advantage for the Nuggets.
Denver coming in: The Nuggets have lost two straight, both on the road, which can’t be a good sign for OKC. They last played on Monday in Phoenix and are 5-5 in their last 10. They are one of the best home teams in the league at 25-5 in the Pepsi Center.
Oklahoma City just does not match up well with Denver. Nene typically abuses OKC inside, Carmelo Anthony gets his points, Chauncey Billups hits big shots and some other player almost always steps up (J.R. Smith, Aaron Afflalo, Kenyon Martin). What makes the Nuggets so tough is their ability to score from EVERYWHERE. They have six players in their rotation that could legitamately score 20 on any given night. And as good a defensive team the Thunder are, that’s still darn tough to guard.
It helps that Ty Lawson will miss tonight’s game with a shoulder contusion. Lawson has really solidified the Nugget bench. But even without him, the bench is still pretty strong. Anthony Carter is a veteran point guard that will handle his minutes well. Obviously Chris Andersen makes a difference with his defensive prescence. And even a guy like former Oklahoma State Cowboy Joey Graham can play big minutes and defend well in his limited time.
The Thunder’s going to need Russell Westbrook to control the show, Kevin Durant to get his points and for someone else to really elevate his game. Maybe that’s Nenad Krstic. Maybe it’s Thabo being aggressive on the offensive end. Maybe it’s James Harden breaking out of his little funk. Maybe it’s Jeff Green getting hot from outside. Whoever it is, someone is going to need to step up and help on the offensive end in order to keep pace with the high-powered Nuggs.
This has the potential to be a classic. Melo vs. KD is enough reason to watch, but now that the game actually means something in terms of playoff positioning, it’s going to just be a blast. I don’t have any expectations to win, but if this Thunder squad has taught us anything, it’s that they don’t give a crap about our expectations. So saddle up and get ready for a fun one.
Tip at 8:00 CST. Go Big Game.