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Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets preview (Game 13 of 82)

ibaka adams faried thunder nuggets

  • When: Wednesday, 19 November 2014 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

The last time the panic alarm was this loud in Thunder Nation was after the 2nd game of the season. The Thunder had just lost 2 close games on the road, and to top it off, they lost their All-Star point guard to a broken hand. The roster was down to 8 healthy players, none of which had ever been tasked with leading a team to battle. The Thunder needed a respite and they needed it fast. Enter the Denver Nuggets. The Thunder got off to a big lead and still had the fortitude to win a close game when Denver got hot in the 4th quarter. From there, the panic dampened as the Thunder started getting some players back from injury and actually won a couple more games. But with the Thunder staring at a 3-9 record, the offense struggling, and their superstar duo probably not coming back for at least another 2 weeks, the panic alarm is once again wailing.

The Opponent

Indiana Pacers v Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets come into the game with a 3-7 record. They won their first game, and then proceeded to lose their next 6, before finally winning the last 2 of 3, including a road victory in Cleveland in their last game. The Nuggets are middle of the pack when it comes to scoring (101.5 ppg), but give up the 4th most points in the league (107.1 ppg). Their rebounding is one of their strengths and it fuels their transition game. Ty Lawson is one of the better pace pushers in the league, using his speed to beat defenders up the court and causing havoc in the paint. On the perimeter, Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler have had their troubles being consistent. Up front, the big man rotation of Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov, and JJ Hickson provides plenty of energy in going after rebounds and hustling defensively. The Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in the league, usually going at least 12 deeep into the rotation. The bench players that receive most time are Randy Foye, Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, Alonzo Gee, and Nate Robinson.

Probable Starting Line-Up

Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Ty Lawson
  • SG – Arron Afflalo
  • SF – Wilson Chandler
  • PF – Kenneth Faried
  • C – Timofey Mozgov

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Jeremy Lamb
  • SF – Andre Roberson
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Consistency – The Thunder have held leads in the last few games they have lost. Sometimes those leads even balloned up into the double digits. But the Thunder have failed to capitalize on those leads due to a stagnant offense. When the Thunder play their best is when they are passing and moving. As soon as the offense becomes iso-oriented, the Thunder struggle due to having their iso MVPs on the bench in street clothes. The Thunder can’t stop playing their current brand of basketball as soon as they see a little light at the end of the tunnel. They aren’t good enough to go off the cuff. They need to stick to their script.

2. Rebounding – I feel like I’ve written this in the last few pre-game reports as a key to the game, but the proof is in the pudding. In their last 3 games (all losses), the Thunder have been outrebounded by an average of 11 rebounds and have allowed the opponent to grab an average of 16 offensive rebounds. While I like the new found perimeter aggressiveness of Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka, I feel like them being so far from the basket takes away from their opportunities to grab offensive rebounds. On the defensive end, Steven Adams needs to play bigger and occupy more space to grab more defensive boards.

Denver Nuggets vs Oklahoma City Thunder

3. Reggie Jackson – The offense goes as he does. If he is masterfully setting up his teammates and controlling the flow of the game, the Thunder usually are usually in control and rolling. As soon as he goes off script, the Thunder tend to struggle. I don’t necessarily fault Jackson. This is his first foray as the focal point of the offense, and he is still adjusting to being shadowed by at least one other defender.

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Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets preview (Game 36 of 82)

perkins faried thunder nuggets

  • When: Thursday, 09 January 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

In my opinion, this game has a bit of a must win feel to it for some reason. Maybe it’s to calm our psyche. Maybe it’s the constant pressure of needing to keep up with the top half of the Western Conference. Whatever it may be, that psyche was put a little on edge after the loss to the Utah Jazz, who own the worst record in the Western Conference. Were there factors at play that may have aided the Jazz? Of course. Two of Oklahoma City’s top three players were out when Serge Ibaka sat out with flu-like symptoms. And Utah has been playing much better since the return of Trey Burke. But still, it’s the Jazz.

Regardless, the NBA season keeps moving along. Tonight, the Thunder face their other division rival located in the Mountain Standard timezone, the Denver Nuggets. The Thunder won the first two meetings of the season between these two teams. The first meeting saw the Thunder outscore the Nuggets 32-21 in the 4th quarter to win a close one, 115-113. The 2nd game was not as close as the Thunder rode an 8 point halftime lead to a 12 point victory, 105-93.

The Opponent

faried lawson nuggets

The Nuggets have been consistently inconsistent this season. This is how their last 24 games have played out: 7 game win streak followed by losses in 11 of the next 14 games followed by the current 3 game win streak. They are a team that is highly dependent on the 3-point shot without having a consistent dead-eye shooter. Point guard Ty Lawson gets the offense going with his ability to dribble penetrate off the pick and role. Randy Foye and Wilson Chandler have greatly benefited from Lawson’s dribble drives to the tune of 35% 3-point shooting for each player. Unfortunately, Chandler will be out of tonight’s game with a strained hip. Despite their lack of size, the duo of JJ Hickson and Kenneth Faried grabs about 16.5 rebounds per game combined, and can wear a front line ragged with their energy and athleticism. Injuries and internal strife have decimated the depth of the Nuggets and turn what used to be one of the Nuggets’ biggest strengths into one of their liabilities.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Ty Lawson
  • SG – Randy Foye
  • SF – Jordan Hamilton
  • PF – Kenneth Faried
  • C – JJ Hickson

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Pick and roll defense – Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson are great at breaking down a defense at the point of attack from the pick and role. If a defender goes under the pick, the two guards are able to punish the defenders with their shooting (over 35% 3-point shooting for both guards). If a defender tries to go over, both guards are quick enough to get past the initial line of defense. Luckily, the Denver big men aren’t great shooters, so the Thunder big men should be able to ice the picks if they happen from the free throw line and up.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets

2. Bench scoring – Injuries to JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler, along with the “suspended/awaiting to be traded” Andre Miller, have decimated the depth the Nuggets once had. The Thunder bench struggled in the last game against the Jazz, so I expect them to come out focused and ready to attack.

3. Thin air – Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson probably played more minutes than they expected on Tuesday, and appeared a bit winded near the end of the game. It will be interesting to see what happens if this becomes a competitive affair and the game minutes go into the upper 30’s to lower 40’s.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets preview (Game 24 of 82)

westbrook thunder rocky nuggets

  • When: Tuesday, 17 December 2013 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

Even though it may not be a long road trip, the stretch the Oklahoma City Thunder are on has to be a bit grueling. In the past two weeks, the Thunder have had a 3 game road trip that began in California and ended in New Orleans. Then they went back to OKC for a game and then back on the road for two. Then back home for two, and now they find themselves back on the road for a one game trip to the Rocky Mountains. If that’s tiring to me, I can’t imagine how it feels to an athlete. With all that said though, the Thunder have won 14 of their last 15, and hold the only undefeated home record in the league.

This is the 2nd meeting of the season between the Thunder and their division rival Denver Nuggets. The Thunder won the first meeting 115-113, after being down by 9 points to begin the 4th quarter. In that game, Kevin Durant (38 pts/8 rebs/6 asts) and Russell Westbrook (30 pts/12 rebs/7 asts) both nearly notched triple doubles, while JJ Hickson  and Ty Lawson led the way for the Nuggets.

The Opponent

chandler hickson shaw nuggets

The Nuggets come into the game with a 14-9 record, but haven’t really had any consistency throughout the season. The started the year 0-3, then won 11 out of their next 14 games, and are currently on a 3-3 stretch in the last 6 games. They usually play at a breakneck speed, but only average 102.1 points per game (good for 12th in the league). Injuries have played a part in their inconsistent start as Javale McGee has been out with a stress fracture in his leg and Danilo Gallinari is still recovering from the ACL tear he suffered last season. The Nuggets’ attack is spearheaded by Ty Lawson, who does his damage by penetrating into the lane, causing the defense to collapse. Wilson Chandler and Randy Foye are above average shooters who are usually the recipients of Lawson’s drives. Inside, the duo of Kenneth Faried and JJ Hickson can gobble up rebounds and cause havoc with their energy. The Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in the league, as evidenced by having 11 players who play more than 12 minutes per game (min: 20 games played).

Probable Starting Line-ups

Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Ty Lawson
  • SG – Randy Foye
  • SF – Wilson Chandler
  • PF – Kenneth Faried
  • C – JJ Hickson

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Control the boards – Hickson and Faried aren’t overly big, but they are extremely active and attack the boards, especially the offensive ones, with zeal. Because of their lack of size up front, the Thunder are usually forced to play small ball most of the time, with Durant playing a lot of 4 and having to match up with Faried and Hickson.

Denver Nuggets v Oklahoma City Thunder

2. Ty Lawson/Nate Robinson – The key to stopping the Nuggets is to stop the point of attack. Both Lawson and Robinson are adept at finding small cracks in the defense and exploiting them. As difficult as it is, Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, and Derek Fisher have to stay in front of these two guards or the defense will collapse and chaos will ensue.

3. Bench play – With the altitude and Denver’s propensity to play small ball, the bench will play a huge factor in this game.

The Thunder and the 2nd Seed

With San Antonio’s win over the Portland Trailblazers on Monday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder were assured of the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference. While it is disappointing that they stumbled in the last month of the season to fall to the 2nd spot, the fact still remains that this is progression in a positive direction. Three seasons ago they were challenging to become the worst team in league history. Two seasons ago they were a surprise 8th seed and took the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers to 6 games in their 1st round matchup. And last season they were the 4th seed and made it to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the eventual champs, the Dallas Mavericks. Progression from here on out will be measured by what happens in the playoffs.

Now that the Thunder are set in their playoff seeding, it is time to look ahead and see how they match up with their potential opponents, both of whom are very familiar to the Thunder. The Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks are both battling for the 6th seed. The Nuggets hold a ½ game lead over the Mavericks and have 2 games remaining, the first of which is against the Thunder, and the last of which is against the “nothing to lose” Minnesota Timberwolves. The Mavericks have one game remaining, on the road, against the Atlanta Hawks, who may still be battling the Orlando Magic for seeding. The Mavericks hold the tie breaker if the teams finish with identical records.

Denver

The Denver Nuggets have become the Thunder’s regular whipping boys these last two seasons. Including the playoffs, the Thunder are 9-2 in the teams’ last 11 meetings. When these two teams meet, points will definitely be scored as it features 2 of the top 3 scoring teams in the league. The Thunder’s rate of success against this team is surprising because the Nuggets have a deep collection of talent at all positions. They feature 6 players that average double figures and 4 other players that average at least 8.6 points per game. That’s 10 players that average at least 8 points per game! The crux to all the scoring, though, is that no one on the team averages more than 16.3 points per game. In crunch time, this team lacks a clearly defined offensive star to score that necessary bucket.

Defensively, the Nuggets are the 3rd worst team in the league, allowing 101.2 points per game. They are a lot like the SSOL (Seven Seconds Or Less) Suns of the early 00’s, focusing a lot of their energy on transition opportunities and increased offensive usage. With the acquisition of Javale McGee and the increased playing time of rookie Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets have become even more of a transition team. But when the Nuggets play another offensively potent team that plays good defense, such as the Thunder, the Nuggets eventually run out of gas in the 4th quarter. That’s been their M.O. in most games that they play against the Thunder.

Dallas

The defending champion Mavericks are a bit of an enigma this season. They lost their defensive anchor (Tyson Chandler), their offensive sparkplug off the bench (JJ Barea), and had a failed offseason acquisition (Lamar Odom). They have been consistently inconsistent this entire season, alternating winning streaks with losing streaks. The Mavs ended the Thunder’s season last year in the Western Conference Finals, defeating them in 5 games. This season has been a different story, though, with the Thunder winning the season series 3-1.

The Mavericks are still led by Dirk Nowitzki, but his scoring average has dipped this season from 23 points per game to 21.6 points per game. A lot of their core is a year older and a step slower. The young players (Rodrigue Beaubois, Ian Mahinmi, and Brendan Wright) are just now getting their feet wet and are playoff neophytes. This team is middle of the road in nearly every statistical category, but still has enough championship moxie to be considered dangerous. The defense has suffered with the departure of Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson, but is still in the top half of the league, allowing only 94.7 points per game.

So who do the Thunder want to face? They already dominated the Nuggets in the playoffs last season, and have continued that trend into this season. They were beat by the Mavs in 5 games last postseason, but held the lead in the 4th quarter in 3 of the 5 games, and have dominated the season series this year. Will we see a different Mavs team emerge in the playoffs? Will they be similar to the 1995 Houston Rockets team that won their second championship in a row as a 6th seed? The answer to both those question, in my opinion, is no. The Mavs team is a shell of what it was last season. They are building for the future (ahem, Deron Williams, ahem) by sacrificing a year of their present. The Thunder finish off both of these teams in 6 games tops. The real question becomes, who do the Mavs or Nuggets want to face; the Thunder or the Lakers?