Yesterday at the Pepsi Center, George Karl talked about the rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He spoke about his team, missing a few key players, pushing the Thunder to overtime in OKC. Karl also revealed that his plan to slowing down Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant (a combined 91 points vs. Denver on Feb. 19th) involves Arron Afflalo and Danilo Gallinari, respectively. Gallo has had some big defensive games this season and has a big challenge tonight covering Durant.
"It's going to be tough, it's going to be a good test for me and for us (the Nuggets) and hopefully we can get a win. It's going to be very important for us." said Gallinari.
Denver: 24-19 (13-10 at home)
Streak: Won 1
Oklahoma City: 32-10 (14-7 on the road)
Streak: Lost 1
Season Series: OKC leads 1-0 in 124-118 overtime win on Feb. 19th.
Opposition's Take: Welcome to Loud City
The Thunder and Nuggets are each rested and both teams will be ready for another big test this evening. The Thunder didn't face a full-strength Nuggets team on Feb. 19th and were forced to come from behind and win things in overtime despite getting 91 points from Westbrook and Durant and 11 blocks from Serge Ibaka.
Gallo, Nene, and Rudy Fernandez all are back in the Nuggets lineup and working themselves back into the flow of the team. At the tail-end of practice yesterday, Gallo and Fernandez were loose and having a half-court shooting contest with Kenneth Faried after getting in their workouts. It was good to see the Nuggets loose and having a little fun. On the other end of the floor, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos, Julyan Stone, and Jordan Hamilton were playing in a pick-up game with some coaches and getting a little heated (in still a friendly manner). One exchange saw Stone, Hamilton, and assistant coach Melvin Hunt arguing over a call - reminded me of any gym where pick-up hoops is being played, but with larger players.
The camaraderie of the team was high and as this team continues to gel with all their pieces in place, they sky is still the limit. I was watching the guys on the floor and marveling at the talent assembled in front of me. This was before Nene walked out of the workout facility and I remembered just how much more talent the Nuggets have with him, Andre Miller, Corey Brewer, and even Chris Andersen.
Nuggets Nation should be feeling good about the direction of the Nuggets team, but there are still underlying issuing right now. Namely, how can the Nuggets defense, one of four teams that gives up over 100 points per game, slow down the second highest scoring offense (102.5 ppg) in the league.
Of the teams that give up 100+ points, only the Nuggets have a winning record. The other three teams that give up 100+ per game? The Sacramento Kings (14-29), Washington Wizards (9-32), and Charlotte Bobcats (6-35). That is awful company. One of the reasons the Nuggets give up so many points is because of the lack of perimeter defense.
The Nuggets have good perimeter defenders in Afflalo, Ty Lawson, Brewer, and even Gallo, but they cannot overcome all that ails them. Denver's defensive rotations are typically slow or at times non-existent. And the high-risk/ high-reward defense the Nuggets coaches allow and encourage their team to play can also result in giving the opponent wide-open shots; as players gamble for steals instead of staying in front of their man.
One of the only encouraging or redeeming qualities of the Denver defense lately, has been their rebounding. Faried's energy on the glass is contagious and in the eight games since the All-Star break, the Nuggets have out-rebounded their opponent in every game.
Tonight's match-up is a big test and a big game for the Nuggets. If Denver wants to make noise in the playoffs this season, they will likely face the Thunder at some point. But first, the Gallo and Company have to take care of business tonight.
"I do remember the playoffs last year. It's definitely a good match-up and we want to play against them." said Gallinari.
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