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Preview: Denver Nuggets take losing streak on the road to face Oklahoma City Thunder

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Can Denver stop the bleeding?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are reeling. What looked like an ample opportunity to gain momentum as the month of December closed ended up being the beginnings of what is now a four game losing streak. Amidst the losses has been a mixture of poor execution and a flat out failure to defend anything resembling an opposing basketball player. Nikola Jokic continues to impress on offense, but when the Nuggets are surrendering over 120 points a game, there’s little chance his offense will be enough to carry the team. Denver will find little reprieve tonight as they are in Oklahoma City to face the Thunder.

OKC is on a three game losing streak of their own, all of which came on the road. They’ll be looking to bounce back tonight behind the efforts of the supremely talented Russell Westbrook, who is aiming to become the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple double, a truly astounding feat if he can pull it off. Westbrook makes up one half of one of the most dynamic backcourts in the Association with Victor Oladipo as his running mate. Those two will be a problem for Emmanuel Mudiay and Gary Harris all night as each is incredibly quick and capable of getting to the basket and finishing with authority. With the struggles of Denver’s defense, particularly stopping dribble penetration, they will have to be at their best to earn a victory tonight.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (14-22) at Oklahoma City Thunder (21-16)

When: 6:00PM MST

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City OK

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and Altitude Radio AM 950

Rival blog: Welcome to Loud City

Position Nuggets Thunder Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay Russell Westbrook Thunder
SG Gary Harris Victor Oladipo Even
SF Danilo Gallinari Andre Roberson Nuggets
PF Darrell Arthur Domantas Sabonis Even
C Nikola Jokic Steven Adams Even
Bench Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Jusuf Nurkic Jerami Grant, Enes Kanter, Semaj Christon, Alex Abrines, Joffrey Lauvergne Nuggets

Injured players: Darrell Arthur - probable (knee), Kenneth Faried - probable (back) Nikola Jokic - questionable (illness), Cameron Payne - questionable (foot)

Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Steven Adams

There’s little reason to believe Mudiay will be able to contain Westbrook so the best matchup tonight should be Jokic vs Adams, provided Jokic can go (if he can’t Jusuf Nurkic vs Adams is a full out battle of titans). As two of the up and coming big men in the division this should be a battle Nuggets and Thunder fans get to view for years to come. Adams is a crafty post player and an exceptionally tough defender. Meanwhile Jokic has an arsenal of tools on offense and maintains good position on defense. Adams doesn’t have the overwhelming athleticism of a DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside or Rudy Gobert, the types of centers Jokic struggles mightily with, but he’s no slouch either and is one of the strongest players in the league. On offense Jokic will have to be creative with his passing (which he always is) but also likely will need to be knocking down his jump shot as a he’s not likely to win a bully battle down low with Adams. On defense Jokic will have a tall task, Adams is not an offensive juggernaut but with Oladipo and Westbrook likely to be in the paint all night long, the Nuggets will need Jokic to protect the rim, something that’s not exactly his strong point.

Key thing to watch for: Bench play

For as amazing as Westbrook is, the Thunder’s bench is equally as dismal. Enes Kanter is the only player on OKC’s bench that likewise would get minutes on Denver’s bench and even that’s questionable (see: Nurkic, minutes and lack thereof). Denver can’t stop Westbrook, no one can, so the twelve or so minutes when he’s resting is when the Nuggets have to make up the difference. With Wilson Chandler back in his sixth man role, and Kenneth Faried likely a go tonight, the Nuggets have all the energy and scoring punch they need to dominate the Thunder’s reserve unit. If however they let someone like Kanter abuse them inside, or if they fail to defend the three point line against a guy like Alex Abrines then they’re going to end up on the losing side of this one. Contain Westbrook as best you can, dominate the reserve unit, that is the recipe for success tonight.

Opening thought: Need this one more than you think

Due to the fact the Nuggets will be playing their game following this one in London, tonight’s match up is the last one before an extended amount of time off. Indeed, the Nuggets will play just one game over the next eight days after tonight’s contest. The Nuggets don’t want to spend their time stewing over a five game losing streak that could easily become a six game losing streak that spans several weeks. Despite the lackadaisical play over the past week, after the Thunder and Indiana Pacers the Nuggets play just three teams with a winning record over the remainder of the month so once again, there’s an opportunity to gain momentum. Denver is STILL just a game out of the eight seed in the West right now. Hopefully the Nuggets can steal a win and build momentum as they head toward the All Star break and the trade deadline.