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Preview: Denver Nuggets cling to hope as they finish road trip at the Oklahoma City Thunder

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Time is quickly running out

Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets entered their seven game road trip knowing the odds were going to be against them. Still a 6-1 or 5-2 record on the swing would likely put them right back in the thick of things in terms of the NBA Playoffs. Six games in, and the Nuggets are 2-4 and clinging to whatever shred of playoff hope they can. Making the postseason is still doable, but it’s going to take a lot of luck and very few, if any, losses down the final stretch. With the Nuggets in Oklahoma City to play the Thunder tonight, this division matchup is a game they simply can not lose.

The Thunder meanwhile are well on their way to another post season appearance. Behind stars Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Steven Adams they’ve been able to keep pace with the ultra competitive west and are looking to secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. However, OKC has stumbled a bit lately, after a six game winning streak they’ve lost three of their last four and will be looking to get back on track. Don’t tell Carmelo Anthony that though, he ain’t worried about making the playoffs and said as much stating “we’ll be there, we’ll be there. I think we’re confident enough to know we’ll be there.”

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (40-35) at Oklahoma City Thunder (44-32)

When: 6:00PM MDT

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio AM950

Rival Blog: Welcome to Loud City

Position Nuggets Thunder Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Russell Westbrook Thunder
SG Will Barton Corey Brewer Nuggets
SF Wilson Chandler Paul George Thunder
PF Paul Millsap Carmelo Anthony Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic Steven Adams Even
Bench Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee, Devin Harris, Torrey Craig Jerami Grant, Patrick Patterson, Raymond Felton, Alex Abrines Even

Injured players: Gary Harris - out (knee), Tyler Lydon - out (knee), Andre Roberson - out (knee)

Key Matchup: Russell Westbrook vs Jamal Murray

This is always the key matchup for the Nuggets when these two teams face each other. Westbrook sees a young guard across from him and his eyes light up. Westbrook has had a 20-20 game, a 38 point scoring outburst and one dud against Denver thus far this season. Murray meanwhile finally found his legs in this matchup the last time the two teams faced and poured in 33 points. IJamal hasn’t topped 30 points since that game and with Gary Harris out, there would be no better time than tonight to pour it in. Still, above all else the goal should be to keep Westbrook contained as much as possible.

Key thing to watch for: energy

The Nuggets are closing up a seven game road trip against a playoff opponent. That usually doesn’t work out in any team’s favor in that situation. However, as noted, Denver cannot afford to lose. They are likely to be short on energy and ready to get back to their homes after this grueling road swing but the Nuggets have to come out tonight with energy from the get go and carry it through to the end of the game. The trip started with a lackadaisical effort at the opening tip against the Memphis Grizzlies, which resulted in a loss, and now has been bookended with two losses, against the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors, where the Nuggets ran out of gas in the second half and threw away a winnable game. Denver needs to bring it for 48 minutes tonight, or their playoff hopes will be reduced to needing a miracle (if they don’t already).

Opening thought: Just win

I’m not in the mood to cover another game where Westbrook deals a fatal blow to Denver’s playoff hopes. In a way he’s been the big brother that always beats them up and never lets them win. It’s time for the Nuggets to get angry and punch their big brother in the mouth (figuratively of course). The road trip has not gone the way the team hoped but thanks to some ugly losses from the Minnesota Timberwolves, they still have an outside shot of making the postseason. Closing out the trip with a win against a division rival, locking up the tie breaker and the season series with the Thunder and heading home with a little momentum might be just what the Nuggets need to make a miracle run.