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Preview: Nuggets host Oklahoma City Thunder in battle of West powerhouses

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First place versus third place in the West. ESPN game. Let’s go.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

In the culmination of Denver Stiffs’ Jokic Week, the Denver Nuggets will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight in a battle of Western Conference powerhouses. The Nuggets are 18-9 and currently reside on top of the playoff picture. The Thunder sit just a half game behind Denver at 17-9. Both teams have played extremely well of late despite injuries for Denver and some tough opponents for Oklahoma City.

Interestingly, this contest may turn into a defensive grind. Without three starters available, the Nuggets have turned to a starting lineup that features Torrey Craig and Mason Plumlee, two non shooters that put a lot of pressure on Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray to play well. On the other side, Oklahoma City just came off a tough loss at New Orleans, and they will likely come out fired up against the Nuggets tonight.

Does Denver have the horses to match up with an angry Oklahoma City team? We’re about to find out.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (18-9) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (17-9)

When: 8:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center | Denver, CO

How to watch/listen: ESPN, Altitude TV, AltitudeNOW.com, the AltitudeNOW App and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM

Rival Blog: Welcome to Loud City

Injury Report: At this point, it’s just sad, so no.

Three things to watch out for:

Spacing on offense

It may sound elementary, but the Nuggets are going to have a hard time scoring tonight. Jokic will likely get his, and Murray will take 20+ shots to keep Denver in it, but the rest of Denver’s starters are likely in for a rough night offensively. The Thunder are the best defensive team in the NBA, sporting a league leading 101.9 Defensive Rating and anchored by four players in the top 40 of Defensive Real Plus-Minus (RPM): Paul George, Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, and Nerlens Noel. The Thunder make life hell for the opposition.

Torrey Craig vs Russell Westbrook

The last time these two teams matched up, Torrey Craig defended Russell Westbrook for nearly the entire game. The Nuggets won, and Craig’s performance (Westbrook finished 6/23 FG, 1/12 3P, and four turnovers) was the largest reason why. Now, the two will match up in Denver, and Westbrook is sure to remember the last time these two teams met. He’s going to come out looking to put Craig on his back, so the second year player from University of South Carolina Upstate has to be ready for him.

Rest for the weary

The Nuggets are coming off of three days off, last playing on Monday against the Memphis Grizzlies in a hard fought battle. Since then, the Nuggets have had some time to recover, lick their wounds, and get their minds right for the next stretch of games. Will the team come out with high energy directed at winning basketball games, or will they be a little flat after three days off?