Thunder (30-12, 10-7 road) vs. Nuggets (16-25, 8-12 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 8:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.4 (2nd), Nuggets – 101.3 (22nd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 100.2 (8th), Nuggets – 106.0 (26th)
The Oklahoma City Thunder got their second half of the season off to a dominant start, beating the Miami Heat 99-74. The manner in which they played was indicative of the style of basketball head coach Billy Donovan would like them to play. It has taken nearly three and a half months, but Donovan’s imprint on this team is starting to take form. In the month of January, the Thunder are averaging 22.6 assists per game, nearly one more assist more than at any other point in the season. The 3-point attempts, makes, and percentage in the month of January are at the highest they have been all season.
Defensively, the Thunder have been holding opponents to their lowest FG and 3-point FG percentage of the season in January. In addition, opponent’s assist numbers are at the lowest point they have been all season this month. In their last game, the Thunder held the Heat to just 12 assists the entire game. In that same game, Russell Westbrook had 15 assists by himself.
The important thing is that the Thunder have steadily improved under Donovan’s direction. The team is buying in, but more importantly, it seems like Kevin Durant and Westbrook are buying in. The most important thing now is consistency. The team has a much tougher slate in these next few weeks with games (many of them on the road) against the upper echelon of the NBA. If the Thunder consistently remain true to their principles, they should be able to compete with the best of the best.Series History
This is the third of four meetings this season between the Thunder and Nuggets. The Thunder have won the previous two meetings by double digits, but had a lot more trouble with Denver in the second game. In that game, the Thunder slowed the game down and dug down defensively in the fourth quarter to hold the hyper-energetic Nuggets to their lowest quarterly point total for the game. Enes Kanter was the offensive spark in that final quarter and was the key to finally breaking through in a back and forth affair that saw the Thunder come out extremely sluggish in the first half.The Opponent
The Nuggets come into this game with a 16-25 record, having won 4 of their last 6. The Nuggets are in that weird position of being a pseduo-rebuilding team. They have a young core, but also feature veterans that play a lot of minutes. They may be sellers at the trade deadline, but for right now, appear content with the young players learning from the veterans.
The Nuggets remain with the same M.O. they’ve had for the past 4 seasons: a bunch of good players, but no great player. That makes for a very balanced team, but one that lacks a true go-to scorer in the clutch. The Nuggets have 11 players that average at least 7.6 points per game. Danilo Gallinari is their leading scorer at 18.8 points per game. After suffering from knee injuries the past 3 season, Gallo seems to be completely healthy and back to his old self. Kenneth Faried can change a game with is energy and is team leader in rebounding at 8.7 a game. Emmanuel Mudiay is an athletic specimen, but is still a ways away from putting all that athleticism and basketball skill together.
Their troupe of centers (Nikola Jokic, Joffrey Lauvergne, and JJ Hickson) have filled in admirably for starting center Jusuf Nurkic who is recovering from knee surgery and suffered a sprained ankle a couple games into his comeback. Nurkic is day to day. Will Barton has been a pleasant surprise off the bench and will like garner some 6th Man of the Year votes. Jameer Nelson is questionable with a sprained wrist.3 Big Things
In their last meeting, Faried played like a man possessed. He grabbed 8 offensive rebounds and shot the ball 20 times en route to a 25 point/11 rebound double-double. He made Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, and Enes Kanter look like they were walking in sand for most of the game. Faried was one of the reasons why Denver was in control of that game in the first half. Maybe Donovan will do try something crazy like matching energy with energy and putting McGary in the game to face him.
2. Packing the paint
The Nuggets aren’t a good 3-point shooting team. They are shooting a shade under 34% for the season on only 24 attempts per game. Their game is more predicated on dribble drives and offensive rebounding. They are third in the league in offensive rebounding at 12.1 a game and score 43.5% of their points in the paint. The Thunder’s struggles on the defensive glass may come back to bite them in the rear end if they aren’t disciplined on the block.
3. Kyle Singler
I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but in the last 3 games, Singler has kind of looked like an NBA player. He’s averaging 4.0 points per game on 45% from the field and 40% shooting from 3-point territory. In addition, his defense has allowed the Thunder to play small at time and not have the 2nd unit looking like a sieve. I don’t know if he has turned the corner or not, but hopefully his play continues to trend in this direction.Thunder Killer – Opposing player most likely to have a breakout game against the Thunder:
Danilo Gallinari – Gallo has been scorching of late, averaging 23.9 points in the month of January. He’s looking more and more like the lottery talent the Knicks drafted 8 years ago. He’s driving more to the basket and getting a lot more points from the free throw line. His 3-point shot has been inconsistent, but it’s still there. If Durant is unfocused on the defensive end, he could be in for a long night on that end of the floor.