Thunder (53-24, 22-15 road) vs. Nuggets (32-46, 17-21 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 – 109.9 (2nd), Nuggets – 103.0 (19th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.0 (12th), Nuggets – 106.3 (24th)
It’s hard to put stock in a game like the Houston game from Sunday. First off, the Rockets are battling for their playoff lives. They are like the kid at the end of the school year that is begging for extra credit so that they can get their grade up. Secondly, the Thunder are just going through the motions in preparation for the playoffs. One thing I noticed was the lack of aggressiveness from both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the fourth quarter. Combined, they shot only 1 free throw in the final quarter (and even that was from a JB Bickerstaff technical). There were some drives from Westbrook, but it was basically just 3-point shot attempts and bad passes from the both of them.
The Thunder know the postseason is where their bread is toasted. They know, in order to even have a sliver of hope to win a championship, that they have to be completely healthy heading into the postseason (and also throughout). Winning a game against the Houston Rockets in April when your playoff seed is basically already decided is not as important as being healthy in the 2nd and (hopefully) third rounds of the playoffs. So, prepare yourself Thunder fans for more games like this; games where if they aren’t decided in the first 36 minutes of the game, will likely end in an L.
This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Nuggets. The Thunder have swept the season series up to this point, winning each game by an average of 13.3 points. The first meeting was a blowout, but the last two meetings have both been decided late in the fourth quarter.
The Nuggets come into this game with a 32-46 record, having lost 4 of their last 5 games. With the playoffs not being in the Nuggets’ near future, the team has shut down Danilo Gallinari who was dealing with an ankle injury. They are, surprisingly, playing everyone else. The Nuggets don’t abide by the 76er’s plan of rebuilding. They want their young players to learn how to win, while also allowing them to make their mistakes.
Emmanuel Mudiay is the prime example of this. The rookie point guard has had a rocky first year in terms of play on the court, but has improved drastically from the beginning of the season. Gary Harris’ game has grown leaps and bounds from his rookie season. He has gone from shooting 20.4% from the 3-point line last season to 35.4% this year. Back-up point guard, and former Thunder player, DJ Augustin gives the Nuggets a steadier hand at point guard to counteract the wildness of Mudiay. Augustin is playing a lot like he did last season when he joined the Thunder (hitting 3’s, playmaking, etc). Will Barton continues to be one of the top 6th men in the league, averaging 14.6 points and nearly 6 rebounds per game.
Up front, the center trio of Jusuf Nurkic, Nikola Jokic, and Joffrey Lauvergne gives the Nuggets a different look when each of them is in the game. Nurkic is the interior bruiser, Lauverge is the mid-range guy, and Jokic can take his range out a little bit further. Kenneth Faried continues to make a living as a high energy big man who gobbles up boards and scores on garbage buckets.
3 Big Things1. Defensive Boards
The Nuggets are 5th in the league in Offensive Rebounds per game at 11.5 per game. As a young team, if they are given continuous opportunities to score, then the momentum will eventually start to shift towards their advantage. The Thunder big men has to do a good job of locating Faried and boxing him out.2. Small(ish) Ball
The ability of the Denver big men (Lauvergne and Jokic) to pull their men away from the basket, allows Mudiay, Harris, and Barton to take advantage of the spacing on the floor. The Thunder may need to play smaller to combat this.3. Durant
Other than Barton, who is on the smallish side for a SF, there is no one on the Nuggets that can defend Durant. Hopefully, Durant can make up for the woeful performance he had on Sunday (10-22 FG, 3-10 3pt FG, 6 TOs, -6).
Kenneth Faried – For some reason, whenever Faried plays us, he turns into the Tazmanian Devil of power forwards. He seems to have his hands on every rebound available and seems to be that much quicker than all of our bigs. I could definitely see a 23/12 performance from him tonight.