Thunder vs. Nuggets preview: Russell Westbrook is back in Denver, will he play role of villain again?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Westbrook played the role of villain the last time he was in Denver. And like most stories go, the villain lost in the end as the Nuggets beat the Thunder. Can Denver duplicate that result tonight?

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season: Game 60
Oklahoma City Thunder (2009 - Pres)
vs
Denver Nuggets (2004 - 2008)
42-15 (16-11 on the road)
1-1
37-22 (24-3 at home)
March 1st, 2013 - 8:30 PM (MT)
Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
TV Altitude/ESPN / 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
Welcome to Loud City Blogs Denver Stiffs
None Injuries Gallo (game time decision)
The Thunder went 7-4 in February Stat Nuggets are 71-84 all-time vs. Sonics/Thunder

If the Nuggets want a shot to win or split the season series with the Thunder, they need this win tonight. Don't get me started on the final match-up between these two teams ... slated for March 19th (The Curse of March 19th). The Denver Nuggets can play with any team in the NBA; the numbers don't lie.

Against teams currently slotted to make the playoffs, the Nuggets have an impressive 18-12 record. Consider that the Thunder are 15-11 against teams currently set to make the post-season. That means the Nuggets are 19-10 vs. non-playoff teams (currently) and the Thunder are 27-4.

Could the Nuggets use that killer attitude against the non-playoff teams? Take into account that Kevin Durant and his teammates are 16-11 on the road and the Nuggets are 13-19. Give Denver the road record of the Thunder and suddenly the Nuggets are 40-14 (24-3 at home and for this exercise 16-11 on the road) and have as many losses as the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs. To live in a dream world ...

Russell "Will I steal Super Mascot Rocky's shot again?" Westbrook and Company will play 14 of their final 25 games on the road; starting tonight in Denver. Both teams are riding three game win streaks. The Thunder defeating the Timberwolves, Bulls and Hornets along the way and the Nuggets taking out the Bobcats, Lakers and Blazers.

I am still not sure if measuring stick games mean anything to anyone but the fans, but both these teams come into the game well rested and ready for a nationally televised game. Will the Nuggets have Danilo Gallinari's services tonight? He is Denver's leading scorer with 16.9 points per game.

Gallo has sat out four of the Nuggets previous seven games and only played 15 minutes against the Bobcats in his last stint on Feb. 23rd. Sure, Gallo's scoring is missed, but his presence on defense is sorely missed as well -- as my colleague Jeff Morton has pointed out.

With Gallo in the game, the Nuggets can play big while staying athletic. Corey Brewer is a chaos creator, but he's not the big body that Gallo is and he's certainly not the rebounder Gallo has shown to be this season. Yes, Gallo only averages 5.4 boards per game, but he does a lot of work on the glass in Denver's crunch-time lineups that feature him at power forward and Kenneth Faried at center.

Against the Thunder, it's hard to play small against Perkins and Ibaka, but George Karl will likely try to figure out a way to force head coach Scott Brooks to put Perkins on the bench. Make no mistake -- these match-ups are always about star power.

3-on-3:

Is it an illusion that Westbrook and Durant play better than normal against the Nuggets? Let's examine how all of the stars for these two teams play against each other.

Westbrook: Against the Nuggets this season he's shooting 47%, which is better than his season average of 43.2%.

Points per game on season: 23.1.
Vs. Denver: 34 ppg.

Assists: 7.9.
Vs. Denver: 6.5.

Durant: Against the Nuggets this season he's shooting 43.8%, which is worse than his season average of 51.3%.

PPG: 28.6.
Vs. Denver: 28.5.

Assists: 4.6.
Vs. Denver: 6.0.

Rebounds: 7.7.
Vs. Denver: 4.5.

Ibaka: On the season he averages 13.5 ppg, but against the Nuggets he has scored just 10.5 ppg. He averages 7.9 rebounds per game, but that dips to 6.0 vs. the Nuggets. He averages 3.0 blocks per game and that goes up to 3.5 vs. the Nuggets.

Denver's big three have not risen to the occasion against the Thunder. Gallo's scoring dips from 16.9 ppg to 14.5 against the Thunder this season.

Ty Lawson scores 16.6 ppg, but against the Thunder he has averaged just 6.5 ppg on a miserable 29% shooting. His assists also dip from his average of 7.1 to just 5.0 against the Thunder this year.

Andre Iguodala's scoring is also down against the Thunder. He averages 13.4 ppg, but just 10.5 against the Thunder on 44% shooting.

For the Nuggets to pull out a win tonight, I'd like to see Gallo (if he plays), Lawson and Iguodala have big time performances. Lawson and Iguodala carried the Nuggets in Portland and hopefully they can duplicate the energy they displayed against the Blazers and get some help from their teammates along the way.

Big game tonight.

Annoying news: The Thunder recently re-signed Derek Fisher. He's easily one of my least favorite NBA players. Here is what Zorgon from Welcome to Loud City had to say about Fisher rejoining the team:

I expected Derek Fisher to be a huge disappointment last season when we signed him. In fact, I wrote a huge tirade explaining why the signing was a farce. And, during the regular season, I was right. Unless the game went into garbage time, he killed the Thunder by missing open shots and getting owned by quicker point guards on defense. But, during the playoffs, he suddenly became relevant. He hit clutch shots when the team needed him the most, and we found an ability to mask his defensive ineptitude.

Nate_Timmons on Twitter
ntimmons73@yahoo.com

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