Nuggets vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer

Thank you. To the entire Oklahoma City Thunder organization, thank you. To Sam Presti, who tried his hardest to make lemonade from a situation that was all lemons, thank you. To Billy Donovan and the coaching staff, who looked at what was in front of them and realized what they needed to do to allow this roster to not only succeed this season, but also in seasons to come. Thank you. To the fans, who started the season off reeling like they were rebounding from a major break-up, only to realize the best thing for them was right in front of their face the whole time. Thank you. And thank you to those 15 men who put the uniform on and go to work every day. To the ones who have been here for more than a season, it must have been a shock to the system to not only lose a couple of the core guys from last year’s team, but also realize the championship window that appeared to be wide open after last season was likely completely closed and dead-bolted with 24 hour perimeter surveillance around it. Thank you for looking at the season as a new challenge and rising up to meet that test. To the new guys, thank you for giving us a jolt of excitement that hasn’t been felt on this team since they first landed in Oklahoma. 

And finally to Russell Westbrook. Thank you for giving us hope; for allowing us to feel again. This was Oklahoma City’s first foray into true sporting heartbreak. The guy we all thought was our guy, left in the middle of a 4th of July barbecue and never came back. He never said goodbye. He never acknowledged all the good times we had together. Instead, he wrote a letter on a napkin and left it on the picnic table. He gave us 8 great years, yes. And for that we are thankful, even if our pain doesn’t allow us to show that now. But we didn’t deserve to be treated like this, either.

You could tell, coming into this season, that fans didn’t really know how to approach this team. Do we cheer for them because we feel sorry for them? Or do we cheer for them because they are our team, even if they aren’t championship contenders? You have to understand the demographics of a fan base to understand this. In an arena of 18,000 people, the breakdown of fandom likely goes: 20% die-hards, 60% casuals (like the team, but probably just like them because they are the only show in town. Prone to cheering for their other favorite team when they come to town),  15% there for the entertainment, and 5% the other team’s fans. The die-hards will always be there. But the 60%’ers? Those were the finicky ones at the beginning of the season.

But they eventually came around as the season progressed for one reason and one reason only: Russell Westbrook. The man put on a show all season long. When you strip away all the triple-doubles and the scoring title, what you are left with is the effort. That raw, dogged determination that no one in the league can match. That visceral display of effort that leaves everyone in awe. The skill is there, yes. But there are plenty of skilled players in the NBA. It’s the attitude that sets Westbrook apart. And this, in his 9th season, is where we’ve finally seen the full maturation of the Westbrook experience. And it has been amazing. So much so, in fact, that Westbrook, once viewed as one of the most hated players in the league, has earned the respect of many opposing fan-bases in the league. For another team’s fans to acknowledge your play takes a lot. And Westbrook has been doing that in every arena stop for the past month. So, thank you to Russell Westbrook, for allowing us to cheer again.

Season Series Summary

This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Nuggets. The Thunder have won the first three meetings of the season, with two of the games being extremely close. The Thunder won the first meeting in overtime by 3 points. And their last meeting was won on a Russell Westbrook 36-foot heave as time expired to give the Thunder a one point victory.

Injuries

  • Doug McDermott – Out (knee)
  • Andre Roberson – Out (rest)

Three Big Things

1. Prevent Injury

This is the final game of the season with absolutely nothing on the line for either team. The Thunder have their playoff positioning locked in, while the Nuggets will head into the offseason and on to what seems like a bright future. The Others have nothing to prove after they showed the world they could beat a team without the services of Russell Westbrook. I hope both teams remain healthy in this game and come out of it unscathed.

2. Domantas Sabonis

If Sabonis were playing for a lottery team where he was given the green light on 30-35 minutes a night, he’d be averaging at least 15/8. He’s that talented. But on a team like the Thunder, his production is compartmentalized for the greater good of the team. But Tuesday night showed what the Thunder see in Sabonis. The inside/out game. The lateral quickness to guard Andrew Wiggins on the perimeter, but also the height and strength to guard Karl Anthony Towns on the inside. The rookie was confidently taking 18 footers in the 4th quarter and making them. The future is very bright for Sabonis.

3. Oscar Robertson

Mr. Robertson will be part of a special ceremony before the game to recognize Westbrook’s historic season. To many young basketball fans, Robertson has always been seen as very reclusive. But this season has introduced a whole new set of fans to Robertson’s accomplishments. Another thing Westbrook has done this season.

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