The Denver Nuggets have shown all the rocky promise of a young team, stunning the Houston Rockets to open the season and then promptly failing to show up in a home opening rout by the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Pepsi Center. Looking to cleanse the palate from that bad taste, the Nuggets have drawn a daunting assignment: stop an undefeated Oklahoma City Thunder team at full strength.
The demonstration of that strength was evident in their first two games, as the Thunder fought off the San Antonio Spurs in their first contest and then put on a double-overtime thriller against the Orlando Magic Friday night down in Orlando, winning 139-136. The Thunder came back from 18 down in the fourth, finishing on a half-court bank shot at the buzzer by the inimitable Russell Westbrook just to get it to OT. As always, no lead is safe against Oklahoma City.
Who: Denver Nuggets (1-1) at Oklahoma City Thunder (2-0)
When: 5:00 PM MT
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Where to watch: Altitude
Enemy Blog: Welcome to Loud City
|Oklahoma City Thunder
|SF||Kevin Durant||Danilo Gallinari||Thunder|
|PF||Serge Ibaka||Kenneth Faried||Thunder
|C||Steven Adams||Joffrey Lauvergne||Even|
Kyle Singler, D.J. Augustin,
Anthony Morrow, Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter
Jameer Nelson, Darrell Arthur,
Will Barton, Nikola Jokic, Randy Foye
Injured players: Wilson Chandler, hip (out), Jusuf Nurkic, knee (out)
Three things to watch:
1) Emmanuel Mudiay vs. Russell Westbrook: Yes, this is obvious. It's also going to be amazing. We got a half-speed preview in the preseason, but this is for real. Westbrook is a machine, and even though he played 48 minutes on Friday I expect him to have another 40 in the tank to take on the rookie. Mudiay is getting a rather extensive early education in point guard play through the preseason and this first week of the regular season, and facing Westbrook will give him a chance to test both his defense and his playmaking prowess. Turnovers against the Thunder tend to turn into easy points, and even though Harris will also be on hand to slow Russell, his huge minutes total alone will necessitate multiple defenders engaging him for long stretches. Mudiay was a little too free with the ball against the Rockets and a little too stingy with it against the Timberwolves. He needs to find the right ratio of risk-to-reward in this game for the Nuggets to stand a chance.
2) Danilo Gallinari vs. Kevin Durant: Durant said the double-overtime game against the Magic "helped [him] a lot" and that he was glad to get used to playing that many minutes again. Gallinari had better hope that Durant is a little weary after that long game. Kevin has called Gallo one of the toughest defenders in the NBA, but the Durantula is a tough cover for anyone. It will be a good test of Danilo's lateral quickness after his knee issues, and if he can stay in front of Durant and bother him on the perimeter then the Nuggets might stand a chance of slowing OKC's two-headed scoring beast. Keeping up with Durant in the points column would be huge too.
3) Thunder weariness vs. Nuggets bench: The Thunder have started the season off with two hard-fought victories, the last one on the road with their two best players logging 54 and 48 minutes respectively in that contest. A deep Nuggets team would throw waves of guys at the Thunder in an attempt to gas them by the 4th quarter, but with J.J. Hickson as a DNP-CD thus far and Randy Foye and Darrell Arthur logging some of the least effective court time of any Denver players, the Nuggets are not as deep as they'd like to be. Wilson Chandler and Jusuf Nurkic will both be sitting this one out, leaving Denver with a very young core of contributors next to Kenneth Faried, Jameer Nelson and Gallinari. It doesn't matter whether the Thunder get tired if the Nuggets have no one who can take advantage.
This is one of those games where you'd like to see a couple of Nuggets have monster games and put the team on their shoulders. The Thunder have their two mega-scorers and also players like Ibaka and Waiters who can go off at any time. The Nuggets need to find a spark from a couple of leaders, get back to creating good looks on offense and playing defense for 48 minutes. 47 and a half minutes won't cut it, as the Magic found out last night.
Prediction: The Nuggets aren't ready for the Thunder in the Thunderdome and lose 110-98.