Thunder (19-4, 7-4 road) vs. Nuggets (14-9, 7-3 home)
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 108.1 (8th), Nuggets – 107.2 (10th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.0 (5th), Nuggets – 104.8 (15th)
Pace: Thunder – 96.8 (3rd), Nuggets – 95.2 (9th)
When you’re a team playing as well as the Thunder are, you get in a tricky situation. The expectation is to win, but even as they pile up, you know that on average, even the best of the best NBA teams lose at least 20 games. So you can’t win them all. And this is one of those types of games that feels like it could be dangerous. Still, you can only take them one by one and in the context of tonight, the Thunder are the better team and should win.
The Nuggets have been a quality team thus far this season, nearly taking one from the Thunder in OKC before Kevin Durant and company kicked up the throttle and took over late. Playing in Denver is always a challenge for a multitude of reasons, but with the Thunder coming off a game that left a bit of a sour taste in their mouths with how they defended, they may be focused.
This Thunder team strikes me as the kind that may lose to a few teams they should for lack of focus, but when they’re ready and keyed up, they’ll beat almost anyone, outside of the league’s elite (those mostly become toss-ups). The Thunder are better than the Nuggets, but circumstances can get in the way of it, so this will be a difficult game for OKC.
Denver coming in: Beat the Pelicans on Sunday
Three Big Things
1. Transition defense. The Nuggets still can bust you up in the open court, turning defense to offense quickly and pushing tempo hard. The Magic ratcheted up the aggressiveness in the fourth quarter and caught OKC off guard. Transition defense has been a bit of an issue so far this season, and the Nuggets are still a fastbreak kind of team.
2. Rebounding. The Nuggets create a lot of second chance opportunities with high energy players like J.J. Hickson and Kenneth Faried. Their athleticism inside can create some matchup issues, especially if Scott Brooks isn’t willing to flex a bit and play Perk very little. Even Timofey Mozgov is a big that runs the floor well, so the wise play would probably be a lot of Durant at the 4, and if you need a center, go with Ibaka, Collison or Adams for the majority of it.
3. Russ vs. Rocky. Forget the Ty Lawson matchup with Russell Westbrook. I want to see what happens when Russ and Rocky square off tonight.
Tip at 8:00 CT. Go Rocky Mountain Russ.