Preview 76 of 82: Thunder vs Nuggets
Time: 7:00 PM CST
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder (44-31) are looking to clinch a playoff berth tonight in Oklahoma City, taking on the Denver Nuggets (50-24) at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Denver holds a 3-0 lead in the season series, and appears headed for the 2-seed in the Western Conference — trailing the Warriors by a full game with eight to play. The Thunder remain seventh in the West after winning two of three, making tonight a potential first round preview. However, with Paul George ‘questionable’ due to shoulder soreness, avoiding being swept in the season series may prove difficult for Russell Westbrook and company.
Tip-off is at 7:00 PM CST and will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma. The Thunder are 3.5-point home favorites according to Odds Shark.
- Paul George: Questionable — Shoulder
- Andre Roberson: Out — Knee
- Michael Porter Jr.: Out — Back
Nuggets: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
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What to Watch For
Tired Nuggets. Tonight will be Denver’s sixth game in nine days, and their second in as many nights, as the Rockets handed them a 112-85 blowout loss last night in Houston. The Thunder have been off since defeating the Pacers on Wednesday in OKC, so rest will be an advantage for the home team. Despite carrying a 31-6 record at home in Denver, the Nuggets are far more vulnerable on the road — going 19-18 as an away team this season. They won 105-98 in their only other visit to the ‘Peake during the 2018-19 campaign.
PG’s Shoulder. Being well rested won’t mean much for the Thunder if Paul George doesn’t suit up, as he’s still listed as ‘questionable’ after the morning shoot-around. George continues to deal with shoulder soreness — though, this time it’s the left side putting his availability in question. He’s considered a game-time decision, with Dennis Schroder or Markieff Morris most likely to slide into the starting lineup if he can’t go. The Thunder are 2-2 with George out of the lineup this season.
The Brodie. Which Russell Westbrook that shows up tonight will likely be determined by PG’s availability, but he’ll have to be at his best either way. He’s coming off a 17-11-12 triple-double in the win over Indiana, comfortably stepping back and letting his teammates carry the scoring burden. Something similar would be ideal for the Thunder this evening, but look for Westbrook to be much more aggressive with his shot selection if he’s tasked with getting buckets.
The Bigs. The Nuggets are led by Nikola Jokic, as the gifted big man comes in averaging 20.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game this season. He hit OKC for 36 points, nine rebounds, and 10 assists when the teams last matched up on February 7 — so it will be on Steven Adams to continue the inspired play he showed on Wednesday. Don’t look for Big Kiwi to replicate the 25 & 12 double-double, but the Thunder should certainly look to keep him engaged throughout — particularly if PG doesn’t suit up.
The Denver Attack. Outside of Jokic, the Nuggets are led in scoring by Jamal Murray (18.2 PPG), Gary Harris (13.3 PPG), Paul Millsap (12.7 PPG), and Will Barton (12.2 PPG). They have the fifth-best offense in the league with an offensive rating of 112.4, the 10th-best defensive rating at 108.1, and plays the seventh-slowest basketball at a pace of 98.59. Denver doesn’t turn it over much, and has done a great job limiting the points they surrender off turnovers, in transition, and on second-chance opportunities. If the Thunder can’t force them out of their comfort zone and dictate the tempo, it could be a long night.
Clinching. The Thunder can clinch their ninth playoff appearance in 10 years with a win — a remarkable achievement for any NBA franchise. It won’t come easy against a stout Nuggets team, but with this being a potential first round preview, OKC would do themselves many favors by avoiding the sweep and getting one before the games really matter.
Gallo’s game day report: