Thunder vs. Nuggets preview: Can Nuggets get back on track versus Durant and company?

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

If the Nuggets hope to salvage their 15-game January home stand after an embarrassing loss to the Wizards, it starts by taking down the NBA's best team.

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2012/2013 NBA Regular Season: Game 43


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32-8 (13-5 on the road)

1-0

24-18 (15-3 at home)
January 18, 2013 - 6:00 PM (MT)
Pepsi Center - Denver, Colorado
TV Altitude / 950 AM / 104.3 FM The Fan
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Ty Lawson
Thabo Sefolosha SG Andre Iguodala
Kevin Durant SF Danilo Gallinari
Serge Ibaka PF Kenneth Faried
Kendrick Perkins C Kosta Koufos
Notes
Daily Thunder Blogs Denver Stiffs
None Injuries None
The Thunder are the first NBA team to capture 30 wins this season. Stat By losing to the Wizards on Friday night, the Nuggets broke a 24-game home winning streak when scoring at least 100 points.

I feel like I've been overly negative about this Nuggets team all season long. So when the Nuggets recently ran off six consecutive wins by marginally defeating crappy teams (in Denver!) like the Magic, Cavaliers and Trail Blazers, I bit my tongue despite thinking: "This might be the worst six-game winning streak I've ever seen."

Trying to stay positive, I internally went with the "a win is still a win" thinking - believing that even though the Nuggets were playing relatively poorly, they were at least competing and gutting out wins. Such effort and reward had to pay off eventually, right?

As anyone who watched Friday night's debacle against the Wizards (who may be worse than the Washington Generals) can attest, it turned out to be the opposite. Rather than building upon the confidence that should come from putting together six straight wins, the Nuggets have developed an assortment of bad habits. Notably, giving away leads in the fourth quarter. And against the NBA's worst team - and allow me to re-emphasize that the Wizards are the worst of the worst - it finally bit the Nuggets in the ass.

Of course, it wasn't the lowly Wizards who broke the Nuggets' six-game streak. That would be the NBA's best team right now and tonight's opponent; Northwest Division rival Oklahoma City Thunder. The mighty Thunder cleaned the Nuggets' clock 117-97 at Oklahoma City on Wednesday night after the Nuggets were coming off a grueling overtime victory against the Blazers in Denver. And the game wasn't anywhere near as close as the 20-point finale indicates.

The Thunder are in a different class than the Nuggets are right now. Maybe it's a different stratosphere actually. Currently on a six-game winning streak of their own, the Thunder are racking up wins at an amazing .800 clip en route to 65-66ish wins. In fact, their only loss in their last nine games came to the same Wizards who beat our Nuggets on Friday night. Go figure.

And thus, there's no better opponent than the Nuggets' division rival for the Nuggets to get back on track with a win tonight. The Nuggets may have been cursed with having to play 22 of their first 32 games on the road, but they were blessed with 15 of 18 January games to be played at home. I don't think anyone expected the Nuggets to win all 15 games, but we certainly didn't expect them to drop home games to an injured, Kevin Love-less, back-to-back playing Timberwolves squad and the NBA's worst team in the Wizards.

Now the Nuggets have to win a game that no one expects them to win to salvage their home stand.

Three things to look for tonight ...

1) Kevin Durant versus Danilo Gallinari. Gallo seems to be evolving into "the man" in Denver by taking - and making - clutch shots and playing stingy defense. At 6'10", Gallo may be one of the few small forwards who can respectably defend the long and lanky Durant. But if Gallo can't contain him, look for shooting guard Andre Iguodala to get some defensive minutes against Durant.

2) Defending the three. The Thunder are in the NBA's top-two for three-point percentage and they round out the top third in terms of threes made per game. I know I sound like a broken record, but the Nuggets continue to struggle defending the three-pointer. Against the Nuggets on Wednesday, the Thunder connected on almost half of their three-point attempts which helped put that game away early. If the Nuggets defense can't disrupt the Thunder around the arc, this game could be over midway through the third quarter.

3) Getting easy shots. The Nuggets are one of the NBA's best at making high percentage, easy shots. The Thunder are one of the NBA's best at preventing their opponent from making easy shots (the Thunder are stingy defenders, allowing opponents to make just 42.8% of their field goal attempts). Something has to give tonight.

Scouting the Thunder

Thunder Non-Stiffs

-Kevin Durant: The most amazing part of Durant's career best, 52-point outburst at Dallas on Friday night was that he missed 18 of his 31 shot attempts to get there. This means that there's no doubt Durant will post a 60 on the board one of these nights. Hopefully not tonight.

-Russell Westbrook: Jeff Morton's least favorite NBA player, Westbrook is putting together a campaign that Fat Lever would be proud of - 22.7 ppg, 8.3 apg, 5.3 rpg and 2.0 spg.

-Serge Ibaka: With career highs in points and rebounds, Ibaka has picked up some of the production lost with the departure of James Harden in the pre-season. Oh, and he still blocks three shots per game.

Thunder Stiffs

-Kendrick Perkins: Does Perkins have the easiest gig in the NBA? Surrounded by star power all around him, all Perkins has to do is show up, scowl and use his six fouls well.

Final Thought

During the pre-season, Nuggets head coach George Karl said his team's goal was to "compete for the division." With half of the 2012-13 NBA season over and the Thunder nine games ahead of the Nuggets, that's not happening. Instead, Karl and his Nuggets need to focus on winning winnable home games by not giving leads away ... and worry about competing with the Thunder in the playoffs' second round down the road.

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