clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Preview: Nuggets face Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder

New, comments

It's the second-to-last preseason game of 2016!

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason festivities roll on as the Nuggets are back in action tonight in their third divisional preseason game. Following a superb victory on Sunday night over Portland, Denver will get a taste of the new-look Oklahoma City Thunder who are missing familiar faces in both Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Durant, of course, jumped ship in free agency this past summer while Ibaka was packaged in a deal with Orlando that sent rookie power forward Domantas Sabonis to OKC on draft night.

The Nuggets will also be reunited with former teammate and second-to-last Nugget Frenchman Joffrey Lauvergne, who was traded by Denver to the Thunder in late August for two second-round picks. In four preseason games with his new team, Lauvergne has averaged 8.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22.6 minutes coming off the bench.

The biggest story this offseason was Durant's departure to Golden State and how the Thunder will react to his absence. Despite the former MVP leaving, the Oklahoma City is still a stacked team with Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams. Will the Nuggets be able to match up well against these new division foes?

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (3-3) at Oklahoma City Thunder (2-3)
When: 6:00 pm MT
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City OK
How to watch/listen: Hopefully/possibly/maybe somewhere online; AM 950
Rival Blog: Welcome to Loud City

Denver Oklahoma City Advantage
PG Jameer Nelson Russell Westbrook Thunder
SG Will Barton Victor Oladipo Even
SF Danilo Gallinari Andre Roberson Nuggets
PF Nikola Jokic Domantas Sabonis Nuggets
C Jusuf Nurkic Steven Adams Even
Key
Bench
Guys
Jamal Murray, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Juancho Hernangomez, Enes Kanter, Joffrey Lauvergne, Alex Abrines, Semaj Christon Nuggets

Injuries: Emmanuel Mudiay (questionable), Darrell Arthur (out), Gary Harris (out); Mitch McGary (questionable), Cameron Payne (out), Ronnie Price (out)

What to watch for: Bulkan Buddy Ball and the Thunder frontcourt

The biggest storyline of the preseason thus far has been the Nuggets lineup of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic in the frontcourt. This lineup has proven to be successful, as Nurkic in particular looks to be rejuvenated and is thriving as a starting center. "Jurkic" passed its biggest test last Friday vs. Golden State's infamous "death" lineup when during six minutes of play the Nuggets had their way with the Warriors on the glass and took control of the game. However, not all has been sunshine and roses for the Jurkic lineup. On Sunday vs. Portland Jokic got burned from the three point line, highlighting one of the weaknesses of having a center play the four. Additionally, there is still the concern of how the offense can flow with two huge players tying up the paint.

Their next test will be the imposing front court in Oklahoma City which features an intriguing matchup in the paint between heavy bruisers Steven Adams and Nurkic. Adams had a breakout year, particularly in the playoffs, and is looking like one of the next top centers in the league. The Thunder also boast great front court depth in newcomer Domantas Sabonis and reserves Enes Kanter and the previously mentioned Lauvergne.

Don't expect either of these teams to go small much, if ever, tonight. This will be a hard-fought game that is won or lost in the paint.

Key Statistic: Rebounding

With such an emphasis on the bigger players in the paint tonight, whatever team wins the rebounding battle will have a huge advantage. Last season the Thunder were the best rebounding team in the NBA, averaging 48.6 boards per game and posting a 46-16 record when out-rebounding the competition. This preseason, however, its the Nuggets who are dominating the boards at an average rate of 52.2 per game. Nurkic leads the way for Denver at 11.2 rebounds per game with Jokic close behind at 8.0. For the Thunder, Enes Kanter has been averaging 9.8 in Steven Adams' absence. With Adams back though, Kanter will be off the bench and as such Kenneth Faried and Juancho Hernangomez will need to have big nights on the glass for the second unit.

Key matchup: Russell Westbrook vs. ???

Make no mistake, this is Westbrook's team now and with Durant gone he will look to shoudler more of the workload than ever. Westbrook's name is already in the mentions for league MVP honors given the heightened expectations surrounding him, and there's a good reason why. Last season he recorded an outstanding 18 triple-doubles, and he's been warming up this preseason already by averaging 17 points, six assists and three rebounds. Most recently he torched Minnesota for 26 points and 10 assists in Sunday's 112-94 win.

Stopping Westbrook will be critical for the Nuggets. Emmanuel Mudiay gives Denver the best opportunity to do so, but there's a chance he will be sitting out for precautionary reasons after spraining his ankle last Friday. Westbrook would have a field day against the older and slower Jameer Nelson, and though he plays hard and hustles  Jamal Murray is still inexperienced enough that he could also be exploited easily. If Denver doesn't find a way to limit Westbrook, he could easily take over this game.

Nuggets Spotlight: Jamal Murray

The Jurkic lineup has been fun to talk about, but Jamal Murray has look fan-freaking-tastic this preseason. He has all the makings of a future star in the NBA and has shown off his ability to score at will, including from three, which has been a sight for sore eyes for the Nuggets. Murray has scored in double figures in all but one of the preseason games, including a 15 point effort against the Trail Blazers. With Mudiay and Gary Harris out of the lineup, Murray has made the most of all the minutes given to him and will be pushing for more during the season.

***Stiffs Night Out***

We will be hosting SNO on opening night (October 26) at our home sports bar, Jake's Sports & Spirits in Denver's vibrant RiNo neighborhood at 3800 Walnut Street, Denver CO. Located conveniently across the street from the new 38th and Blake Commuter Rail Station and just five minutes (by car) from Coors Field. Jake's will extend happy hour for all Stiffs attendees.

The event is free to attend and all ages are welcome. It's a great way to meet fellow Nuggets fans and Stiffs readers in a fun and friendly environment. We look forward to seeing you there!