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Preview: Nuggets look to keep on rocking against Thunder

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The Nuggets have a 2-3 record in December, but on the eve of December 15, they have a chance to start another winning streak with a game against the Thunder.

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

In years past, the games at the Pepsi Center against the Oklahoma City Thunder were some of the best games a fan could possibly attend the entire season.

It’s hard to erase the memory of Russell Westbrook goaltending Rocky’s halfcourt shot in the fourth quarter, or Russell Westbrook getting cheers while setting the record for triple-doubles in a regular season, or Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka and Westbrook combining for like 90 points in a scrappy game. What helps is seeing a Thunder team roll in with a roster of players that most Nuggets fans may not be able to recognize even as they are being introduced at the start of the game.

The Thunder’s roster has undergone a complete makeover since the days with Durant. Chris Paul has replaced Westbrook at point guard, with a young, promising guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander starting next to him in the backcourt. Nuggets fans will recognize Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams, but the rest of the rotation is filled out with guys like Abdul Nader, Darius Bazley, Luguentz Dort, Terrance Ferguson, Deonte Burton, Hamidou Diallo, and Mike Muscala.

While NBA Draft geeks may be thrilled to see all those fringe players get minutes (I love Deonte Burton), this isn’t the same team that we’re used to seeing. This is a team in rebuild mode, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. The Nuggets will need to make sure Gallinari doesn’t turn back time and have a huge game, while keeping Chris Paul in check.

The Basics

Who: Oklahoma City Thunder (11-13) vs Denver Nuggets (15-8)

When: 7:00 PM MT

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado

How to Watch: Altitude, NBA League Pass

Rival Blog: Welcome to Loud City

Projected Matchups

POS OKC DEN EDGE
POS OKC DEN EDGE
PG Chris Paul Jamal Murray Thunder
SG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Gary Harris Even
SF Abdul Nader Will Barton Nuggets
PF Danilo Gallinari Paul Millsap Even
C Steven Adams Nikola Jokic Nuggets
BENCH Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel, Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley, Mike Muscala Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Jerami Grant, Michael Porter Jr, Juancho Hernangomez, Mason Plumlee Nuggets

INJURIES: Hamidou Diallo (out - elbow), Andre Roberson (out - knee), Terrance Ferguson (out - hip)

Three Things to Watch

Winning at any cost. Chris Paul is many things: a future Hall of Fame point guard, the players union president, a spokesman for State Farm, and a snitch.

Everyone in the world should react to this the same way Jeff Teague did — totally defeated by the ridiculousness of what just happened. Who even does this? Of course the Thunder are able to tie the game and win in overtime. If this happened in your rec league, that guy wouldn’t be invited back the next season. Jamal Murray better make sure his shoelaces are tied or some other obscure jersey standard is being met, or Paul will get him.

Can the Nuggets hot shooting be consistent? In the month of December, the Nuggets have been up and down with their perimter shooting. Here’s their recent run:

The Thunder don’t have the same kind of length that bothered the Nuggets against the Celtics and 76ers, and the Nuggets should be able to get off open looks from the perimeter. Players like Gary Harris, Will Barton, Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, and Malik Beasley need to have the confidence to take open shots when they get them, and not settle for midrange jumpers. The Thunder scheme players to take those shots — don’t take the bait.

Get wins while you can. The Nuggets difficult part of the month is over. They only have three more road games the rest of the month, and the teams they play at home are teams that they should be able to beat: the Knicks, Magic, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Grizzlies, and Kings. They have to go on the road to play the Lakers, Suns, and Rockets — no shame in going 1-2 — but if they can finish the month 9-4, that would be outstanding. Getting wins against division opponents would be even sweeter, as the Nuggets are already on course to return to the playoffs again this year.

Prediction

Denver Nuggets 102 - Oklahoma City Thunder 95.