Thunder vs. Nuggets preview: Kevin Durant's one-man army comes to Denver ...

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

It's time for the Denver Nuggets to win one that counts when the class of the Northwest Division comes to Pepsi Center on Thursday night.

Game 35: 2013-14 NBA Season
@

27-8 (12-5 on road)
Series 2-0
17-17 (9-8 at home)
January 9th, 2013
Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
8:30 PM MT
TNT / 950 AM

Reggie Jackson PG Ty Lawson
Thabo Sefoloshoa
SG Randy Foye
Kevin Durant SF Wilson Chandler
Perry Jones
PF Kenneth Faried
Kendrick Perkins
C J.J. Hickson
Notes
Welcome to Loud City Blogs You're here!
Serge Ibaka (flu) is day-to-day, Russell Westbrook (knee) is out. Injuries Danilo Gallinari (knee) is out, JaVale McGee (leg fracture) is out, Wilson Chandler (groin) is day-to-day.
Even with a Tuesday loss at Utah, the Thunder have won 8 of their last 9 road games. Etc... After the last time the Nuggets lost to the Thunder at home, they proceeded to lose 7 more games in a row.


While our Denver Nuggets have certainly had their fair share of ups and downs this season, there's still one thing they haven't accomplished: beaten an elite team, at home or on the road. By my counting, the NBA has only seven such "elite" teams this season (in no particular order): the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Thursday night's opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

So if the Nuggets can best the Thunder on Thursday night, they'd be putting one heck of a cap on a four-game winning streak.

The mighty Thunder, despite being beset by injuries to All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and despite getting very little production from their bench, remain in that elite category thanks largely, and perhaps solely, to Kevin Durant. Now in his seventh season, Durant - arguably the 2013-14 MVP - is averaging career-highs in rebounds, assists and steals and a near career-high in points. Durant is as devastating as ever, and as long as he's on the floor his Thunder have a chance to win.

We as Nuggets fans have witnessed this twice already this season. First in mid-November when Durant unloaded on the Nuggets for 38 points to deliver the Thunder back from what would have been the Nuggets biggest road victory of the season. And second just three weeks ago when Durant's 30 points led to an easy Thunder rout of the Nuggets here in Denver. Simply put, the Nuggets have no counter to one of the NBA's best players ... but no other team does, either.

How to beat the Thunder then? Make the other guys do so. As evident in the Thunder's Tuesday night loss at Utah during which Durant went off for 48 points, the Jazz made Durant do all the work (he shot just 41% from the field) while stifling all of his teammates sans Reggie Jackson. 37 points from Jazz guard Gordon Hayward didn't hurt, but Utah had seven players score at least 9 or more points and Oklahoma City was unable to counter with any balance of their own.

To me, that's the game plan Denver should execute on Thursday night. Let Durant go off for 35, 45 ... hell, 50 ... but don't let his teammates hurt you.

Three things to look for in this game ...

1) 4-0 in the post-Andre Miller Era? The Nuggets are officially 3-0 post-Andre Miller (and 1-0 under Lester Conner who now gets to join the Nuggets Interim Head Coach Hall of Fame!). If the Nuggets beat the Thunder Thursday, it's no accident that they're better sans Miller. Something I wouldn't have said a year ago.

2) The 9-man rotation. As Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw recently told our very own Nate Timmons, he's trying to cut the rotation down to 9 players, which to date has left Jordan Hamilton as the odd man out. But should Wilson Chandler be unable to play Thursday due to his strained groin, could J-Ham be player #9 or will it be Anthony Randolph?

3) More from Fours! Second-year Frenchman Evan Fournier has been productive during all three of the Nuggets recent wins. Let's see it happen for a fourth straight game.

Scouting the Thunder ...

Thunder Non-Stiffs

-Kevin Durant: Did you read my first few paragraphs? Enough said.

-Serge Ibaka: Not mentioned above, Ibaka was absent from the Jazz game due to the flu. With the shot-blocking, rebounding Ibaka on the floor the Thunder are much, much better.

-Reggie Jackson: Not to be confused with the former A's and Yankees slugger, Jackson has been filling in admirably for the injured Russell Westbrook.

Thunder Stiffs

-Russell Westbrook: Just ask Supermascot Rocky.

-Kendrick Perkins: Is there a bigger waste of space at starting center in the NBA right now than Perkins?

Final Thought ...

The Nuggets are overdue for beating a real NBA team. While I'll gladly take Ws from beating up on the likes of the Lakers and Celtics, it's time for Denver to exercise their home court advantage and beat a team that could end up in the NBA Finals.

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