Thunder vs. Nuggets preview: Durant, Westbrook will put Nuggets to the test

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA's hottest team arrives at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night for an inter-division battle with our Denver Nuggets.

Game 24: 2013-14 NBA Season
@

19-4 (7-4 road)
Series 1-0
14-9 (7-3 home)
December 17th, 2013
Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
7:00 PM MT
Altitude / 950 AM

Russell Westbrook PG Ty Lawson
Thabo Sefolosha SG Randy Foye
Kevin Durant SF Wilson Chandler
Serge Ibaka PF Kenneth Faried
Kendrick Perkins C J.J. Hickson
Notes
Daily Thunder Blogs You're here!
None Injuries Danilo Gallinari (knee) is out, JaVale McGee (leg fracture) is out

The NBA's hottest team, the Thunder have won 14 of 15 and have tied their best start in franchise history through 23 games.


The Nuggets have won 9 of their last 11 home games against the Thunder.

After our Denver Nuggets inexcusably dropped a Friday night home game against a pathetic Utah Jazz squad (that actually wants to lose games!), Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw threatened to make changes to his starting lineup, noting that the Nuggets bench has had to pull the lion's share of the weight in recent games.

Shaw's starters must have gotten the message, because on Sunday night they combined for nearly 70% of the Nuggets scoring output and easily bested a New Orleans Pelicans squad that's inarguably better than the Jazz, even with the myriad injuries that have struck the New Orleans team. But if the Nuggets are to replicate Sunday's success against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, they're going to need both the starters and the bench to produce ... big time.

When these Northwest Division rivals last met, the Thunder eked out a 115-113 victory at Oklahoma City in what might have been the Nuggets' finest road performance of the season. In that contest, the Nuggets connected on nearly 50% of their field goals and attempted 43 free throws, and led throughout the game. The problem, of course, was that the Nuggets missed about half of those free throws and allowed the Thunder to sneak back into the game late. 38 points from Thunder superstar Kevin Durant later and the Nuggets were toast.

Truth be told, despite the Nuggets' admirable 14-9 record they have only four wins against quality opponents this season: two victories apiece against the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves. And calling the 12-13 Timberwolves a "quality opponent" is a stretch. Point being, for the sake of their own internal confidence and for the sake of building confidence among Nuggets fans, the Nuggets need to start besting the NBA's best ... especially at home. And there's no better opportunity to do so than against the NBA's hottest team on Tuesday night.

Three things to look for in this game ...

1) My bench is better than your bench
The Nuggets and Thunder boast two of the NBA's best benches. The Thunder bench averages 33.7 ppg and they are 13-2 when their reserves outscore their opponent's reserves. Sounds good, right? Well, the Nuggets serve up the NBA's third most productive bench in scoring (at 44.7 ppg) and they are first in rebounding (20.3 rpg). Tuesday night's contest could be determined by those who come off the pine, and those who start the game.

2) Continuing the Rocky versus Russell Westbrook feud
For whatever reason, Westbrook has made it a point to block Rocky's signature behind-the-back-halfcourt-shot in recent Nuggets games at Pepsi Center. This seems to fuel Westbrook while only agitating the Pepsi Center crowd to hate the mercurial point guard more and more. Can Rocky and the Denver fans get under Westbrook's skin enough to force him into bad decisions? Or will Westbrook just feed off the negative energy and torch the Nuggets as he usually does?

3) Rebounds galore
The Thunder lead the NBA in rebounds per game (47.3) while the Nuggets currently rank third (just a rebound shy of OKC at 46.3). When leading their opponent in rebounding, the Thunder have lost just once this season. If the Nuggets can somehow muscle their way into more rebounds, that could be the difference in the game.

Scouting the Thunder ...

Thunder Non-Stiffs

-Kevin Durant: Want to know how f-----g awesome Durant is? In the Thunder’s recent outing on December 1st versus the Timberwolves, Durant did something that has never been seen before in NBA history. Durant recorded his fourth career triple-double with 32 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 12 assists, but by also adding 4 blocks and 4 steals, Durant became the first player EVER with 32+ points, 10+ rebounds, 12+ assists, 4+ steals and 4+ blocks in the same game.

-Serge Ibaka: Ibaka is having his best offensive season ever and is grabbing a career-high 9.4 rpg. Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson are going to have their hands full keeping Ibaka off the boards and in check. No napping on Tuesday night at the power forward position.

Thunder Stiffs

-Russell Westbrook: I don't care how talented Westbrook is. He's mean to Rocky and that forever puts him on our Stiff List (I did this for Jeff Morton, by the way).

-Hasheem Thabeet: Thabeet ends up on the "Stiffs" ledger of the scouting report routinely and it might be time to officially call him out as the worst second overall pick in NBA Draft history.

Final Thought ...

We know the Nuggets can beat the likes of Brooklyn, New Orleans, New York and so forth. But they won't be facing those teams in the post-season. If the Nuggets are serious about making strides as the season goes on, they must become a force to be reckoned with at home.

*****
SAVE THE DATE!!

Our next STIFFS NIGHT OUT will spread some holiday cheer on Saturday, December 28th as the Nuggets take on the Grizzlies at Memphis at 6pm Mountain Time. If you don't have family to spend time with or just want to get away from your family and join your fellow Stiffs, please join us at Jake's Food & Spirits for a 6pm tipoff. More details to come!

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