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Preview: Nuggets face big test in Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder

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Russy and friends are back in the Mile High

NBA: New York Knicks at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are slowly but surely reaching form as winners of three of their last four games. Nikola Jokic showed he’s still as dominant as ever in a career night against Brooklyn on Tuesday, during which he lit up the Nets to the tune of 41 points. Defensively the Nuggets haven’t looked this good in years and on the offensive end Paul Millsap and Jokic are figuring each other out. The results of late have been promising.

Tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, however, will present a real challenge for the Nuggets and should provide an idea of where Denver truly is on the NBA measuring stick.

Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are struggling to gel with Russell Westbrook and the Thunder are far from the super team many expected them to be. They have lost their last three games, most recently in Sacramento on Tuesday night, and have yet to defeat a Western Conference opponent this season. Still, the Nuggets must tread lightly. Westbrook always finds a way to turn the Pepsi Center floor into his own personal playground and tonight’s game will be no different. Denver will not want to be on the receiving end of a Westbrook thunderstorm, especially on national TV.

The Basics

Who: Oklahoma City Thunder (4-6) at Denver Nuggets (6-5)

When: 8:30 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to watch: TNT

Rival blog: Welcome to Loud City

Position Nuggets Thunder
PG Jamal Murray Russell Westbrook
SG Gary Harris Andre Roberson
SF Wilson Chandler Paul George
PF Paul Millsap Carmelo Anthony
C Nikola Jokic Steven Adams
Bench Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee Patrick Patterson, Ray Felton, Jerami Grant, Alex Abrines

Injury Report: Juancho Hernangomez (illness)

There’s a lot of history going into tonight which makes this one of the Nuggets’ must-watch games this season:

  • Denver has not beaten Oklahoma City at home since November 19, 2014 – a game in which neither Westbrook nor Kevin Durant played in, and one that featured Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Timofey Mozgov as starters for the Nuggets. Brian Shaw was the coach, unfortunately. That was 1,086 days ago.
  • In the last home regular season game against the Thunder back in March, Westbrook broke the long held record for the most triple-doubles in one season and appropriately received a standing ovation. He then went on to bury the Nuggets’ playoff chances in the last four minutes, capping off a 50 point (!) performance by launching a 30-foot miracle three-pointer to win the game. After making the shot he received another standing ovation. From the Denver crowd. After he single-handedly eliminated Denver from the playoffs. #NuggLife.
  • During a preseason game last month Westbrook blatantly shoved Nikola Jokic to the ground for no real reason at all. He was assessed a meager Flagrant 1 foul and nothing more.
  • No one has forgiven Westbrook (or ever will) for his goaltend on Rocky during the Supermascot’s patented half-court shot.
  • A new fun one: Carmelo Anthony has not won a game in Denver since leaving the Nuggets in 2011. In the five instances the Knicks traveled to Pepsi Center post-trade, Anthony has struck out every time. It would be great for that streak to continue as a member of the Thunder.

Fun-factors aside, this is an important game for the Nuggets. Not only do they have the opportunity to build on the success of this six game homestand but they can prove they belong with the best teams in the West. Outside of Toronto, Denver has yet to beat a really good team and has fallen short a few times already this year (Utah, Washington, Golden State). A good win tonight would be huge confidence booster and put the Nuggets in a great spot moving forward.

The Thunder, however, are more than equipped to exploit many of Denver’s weaknesses. They are the best team in the league at forcing turnovers (18.1 per game) which have been the cause of much distress for the Nuggets. They are also notorious for their physical style of play. If the preseason game was any indication of how Westbrook feels about Jokic, then Denver should be prepared for a difficult night and to not let it get under their skin.

Fortunately the blueprint for defeating the Thunder exists. Oklahoma City is 0-4 in games when they’ve scored under 100 points and has three stars struggling to co-exist on offense. Denver’s defense (by limiting Westbrook) will ultimately win this game, especially if the offense is executing.

Prediction: Nuggets 116, Thunder 111

Poll

What is the best storyline for tonight’s game?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Nuggets haven’t won at home against Thunder in forever
    (90 votes)
  • 30%
    Westbrook v. Jokic
    (123 votes)
  • 35%
    Westbrook v. Rocky (this is the correct answer)
    (141 votes)
  • 10%
    Another Melo homecoming
    (41 votes)
  • 1%
    Other - see comments
    (6 votes)
401 votes total Vote Now