OKC Thunder (50-26, 22-16 road) vs. Denver Nuggets (47-29, 31-7 home)
TV: FSOK (Cox 37, HD 722, Tulsa Cox 27, DirectTV 679, UVerse 754)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 97.1 FM Tulsa)
Time: 8:00 CT
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.9 (6th), Nuggets– 112.1 (1st)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 107.2 (15th), Nuggets – 107.2 (16th)
Pace: Thunder – 92.6 (13th), Nuggets – 95.6 (2nd)
View from the enemy: Roundball Mining Company
File this one under “kind of sort of really important.” Because drop this one and not only have you lost three straight, but now it’s only a two game lead over the Nuggets. Thing is, Oklahoma City has never had an easy time against Denver in the Rockies. That was when the team was centered around Carmelo Anthony, but still, since becoming the Thunder, the team hasn’t won there.
I’m reminded of a big one against the Nuggets last season where OKC had a chance to close in on the Northwest lead, but didn’t show up at all, getting blown out by Denver. Like I said yesterday, I hope this team has learned.
This isn’t the same Denver team we’re used to though. Gone is the premier Durant versus Melo matchup. Gone is Chauncey Billups. Enter a team that moves the ball effortlessly, shares extremely well, defends, rebounds and plays total basketball. The Nuggets are scaring a lot of people right now and not just the Thunder. These guys are dangerous.
Overlooked a bit is that this is your likely first round playoff opponent too. So we’ll get a good strong look at how OKC matches up with the new look Nuggets, as well as a window into what adjustments might be necessary to beat them four times in a series. Potentially, the Thunder could be playing nine very big games against these Nuggets in the next few weeks.
Here’s how big winning the Northwest is: The Nuggets are 16-22 on the road. They’re 31-7 at home. So having the first two in OKC with the Sea of Blue behind them, along with a Game 7 at home is huge. Like massively huge. Like could-decide-the-series huge.
All the Thunder’s eggs aren’t in tonight’s basket though. If OKC loses, it still holds a two-game lead over the Nuggets, but definitely lets Denver tighten the chain a bit and also gives them the upper hand for the tiebreaker. But this is a good team and it’s on the road. It won’t be easy to win. But the Thunder needs to play well mainly just to get back on track and wash the taste of the last two out of their mouths.
Denver coming in: The Nuggets are 15-4 without Melo, have won seven straight and 9-0 at home since the trade. Yowza.
A lot of interesting head-to-head matchups in this one. Nene versus Kendrick Perkins. Kenyon Martin versus Serge Ibaka. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari versus Kevin Durant. Russell Westbrook versus Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton.
Arron Afflalo is questionable and not having him obviously hurts the Nuggets, but George Karl has really settled in to playing Felton and Lawson together, which makes Denver tough to match up with. In a game like this, I honestly don’t see that much that Thabo adds if Afflalo is out because defensively, he’s not set up to make that big of an impact. James Harden probably matches up better with both Felton and J.R. Smith, who comes off the bench. (If Afflalo is out, Chandler starts at shooting guard.)
The Thunder needs a good game from either Durant or Westbrook to win. There won’t be any of this combined 11-36 if OKC wants to win. If both play well, the Thunder should handle the Nuggets. I think OKC actually matches up really well with Denver and puts more pressure on them than vice versa. Denver has some tough covers, but remember, the Nuggets have to try and handle KD and Westbrook, two of the best scorers in the league.
It’s a big one tonight. Let’s hope OKC shows up for 48 minutes.
Tip at 8:00 CT. Go Big Game.