Game 79 Preview and GAME THREAD: Nuggets vs. Thunder

 

Records:
Denver 52-26 (31-8 at The Can)
OK City 21-56 (7-30 on the road)

Season Series: Denver leads 3-0
January 2: Denver wins 122-120 in OK City
February 4: Denver wins 114-113 in OK City
March 11: Denver wins 112-99 in Denver

Opposition: Welcome to Loud City (preview is already up!)

 

If you're heading to the Pepsi Center tonight please remember to bring your brooms. The Nuggets will be looking for their 11th series sweep this season.

The Thunder have played the Nuggets about as tough as any team this season, as I think we all recall the Nuggets escaping with two last second wins in Oklahoma.

The Thunder average 96 points per game as a team this season and yet against Denver they are averaging 110.6 points.

Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, Kevin Durant, and Earl Watson have all victimized the Nuggets this season. All four Thunder players have each boosted their season scoring averages against Denver.

Westbrook averages 15.7 ppg against Denver and 15.5 on the season (not much difference I know.)

Green averages 20.3 ppg against Denver and 16.8 on the season.

Watson averages 15 ppg against Denver and 6.3 on the season. The good news on Earl is that he's recorded 12 straight DNP-CDs since that last Denver game on March 11th. The Thunder had been giving Chucky Atkins some run, but now with the signing of once promising Shaun Livingston ... Atkins has been benched.

Livingston has played in three games for the Thunder and is averaging 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in 23 minutes. Livingston was added after appearing in 4 games this season with the Miami Heat. Shaun is trying to make his way all the way back after his devastating knee injury as a member of the L.A. Clippers in 2007. The 4th overall pick by the Clippers in the 2004 draft, Livingston is trying to catch on with a team loaded with young talent.

And the most talented of the bunch ... Kevin Durant is averaging 32 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6 assists in his two games against the Nuggets. For the season KD is averaging 25.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists.

Durant has shined against the Nuggets and with his 6'9'' frame and preference for a perimeter game, Durant creates a nice matchup problem for the Nuggets. With Kenyon Martin being a game-time decision tonight (rib) Denver will have to get creative in how to guard Durant as KMart is the preferred lock down defender for the oppositions big men scorers ... see Nowitzki, Dirk.

The Thunder are losers of three straight and were publicly called out by their Head Coach Scott Brooks (former Nuggets assistant and really nice guy). Loud City has some great quotes on it here.

The interesting thing to me is that Kevin Durant might start to face the same questions that most prolific scorers face ... and he may face them rather soon. The Thunder posted a 5-2 record without Durant from February 28th to March 11th and since he's been back the Thunder are just 3-9 in their last 12 games with Durant leading the way with 23.7 ppg.

So, the question becomes - Can Kevin Durant make his teammates better?

Nuggets fans are familiar with this very question as Melo came into the league with the ability to score right away (21 ppg as a rookie and 20.8 ppg in his second season). Melo was able to get away from the criticism because his team has made the playoffs every year since he came into the league. He was largely credited with turning around a team that went 17-65 in 2002-2003 to 43-39 in his rookie season in 2003-2004.

But Carmelo has been hearing some criticism for not being able to win in the playoffs. And while losing in the playoffs is certainly better than not making the playoffs at all, Melo is probably feeling some pressure as the Nuggets prepare to enter the postseason once again.

The Thunder have lost their last three games by an average of 21 points. They've been outscored 323-260 in their losses to the Blazers (107-72), Pacers (117-99), and Spurs (99-89). All three of those games were played in Oklahoma City where the Thunder have 14 wins this season and where the Thunder really challenged the Nuggets.

I don't see Denver losing focus now to a team that has been playing poor basketball. But I hope Denver realizes that with Durant this Thunder team can score in bunches. While I may have knocked on Durant for not leading his team to more wins ... he has guided the Thunder to two narrow losses to the Nuggets.

 

Pregame Notes:

  • Melo has averaged 28.3 points and 5.3 assists against OK City, including teaching Durant a couple lessons with two game winners
  • In his last game against the Thunder The Crime Stopper played 30 minutes and scored 14 points and 14 grabbed rebounds ...
  • In two games against the Thunder ... Billups has averaged 20.5 points and 8 assists

Playoff Outlook:

The Rockets and Hornets each pulled out wins last night. I was hoping we'd see a couple losses out of those two.

The Spurs and Blazers each won as well, as I expected ... though the Blazers had some trouble against the Grizzlies (96-93) as Blazers Edge explains.

Am I worried about the Rockets ability to overtake the Nuggets since they own the tiebreaker with Denver? You could say I'm a bit worried. Though I still think Denver has a great shot to go 3-1 or even 4-0 to finish the season. Their destiny is in their own hands. If the Nuggets win out or go 3-1 we'll wrap up the 2nd Seed.

I hate to keep saying it, but like the hated Al Davis once said, "Just win baby!"

 

 

ntimmons73@yahoo.com

 

 

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