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Preview: Nuggets look to bounce back against Oklahoma City Thunder

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Will the shorthanded Nuggets be able to pull out a win against a red-hot Thunder team?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets’ return to basketball in the first seeding game against the Miami Heat did not go to plan. Playing without three starters in Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton, Denver went into halftime with a one point lead then completely fell apart in the second half in a 125-105 blowout loss. This afternoon, the Nuggets will have the opportunity to get back on track against a potential playoff opponent in the Oklahoma City Thunder, though they will be without Harris and Barton again and Murray is still listed as questionable.

Led by a resurgent Chris Paul and a familiar face in Danilo Gallinari, the Thunder were one of the hottest teams in the league heading into the suspension and it looks like they haven’t skipped a beat. Oklahoma City took it to the Utah Jazz in it’s first seeding game in a solid all-around effort and now finds itself just 1.5 games back behind Denver for the three seed. Counted out by nearly everyone following the Paul George trade last summer, OKC has proven to be a tough out for nearly everyone and a shorthanded Denver team will have to play much better than it did on Saturday to win.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (43-23, 0-1) at Oklahoma City Thunder (41-24, 1-0)

When: 2:00 PM MST

Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, FL

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV/NBA TV

Rival Blog: Welcome to Loud City

Projected Lineups

Position Nuggets Thunder
Position Nuggets Thunder
PG Monte Morris Chris Paul
SG Torrey Craig Lugentz Dort
SF Michael Porter Jr. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
PF Paul Millsap Danilo Gallinari
C Nikola Jokic Steven Adams
Bench Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, PJ Dozier, Troy Daniels, Bol Bol Dennis Schroder, Hamidou Diallo, Nerlens Noel, Darius Bazley

Injury Report: Jamal Murray - questionable (hamstring); Gary Harris - out (hip); Will Barton - out (knee); Vlatko Cancar - out (foot)

Three Questions for Today’s Game

Will Jamal Murray play?

After missing Saturday’s opener against Miami due to a tight hamstring, Jamal Murray has been upgraded to questionable for today’s game. In yesterday’s media availability we got some more clarity on the injury, learning that Murray is unsure of when it occurred and that “it still hurts right now.” Given Denver’s emphasis on being healthy for the playoffs, it would not be a surprise if Murray is held out a bit longer even with his upgraded status.

Murray and his 18.8 points per game were sorely missed against the Heat as the Nuggets ran into a wall in the second half. If he does rest again, look for Monte Morris and P.J. Dozier to get burn again. Morris’s efforts as a starter were fairly uninspiring, though Dozier had some flashes of brilliance. One of the two will have to step up and play better all while keeping Chris Paul in check, not an easy task.

How will Michael Porter Jr. respond?

Making just his second ever start against the Heat, Michael Porter Jr. struggled to find any kind of offense that normally looks so easy for him. MPJ finished with 11 points on 4-11 shooting and only grabbed one rebound as he was stifled by Jimmy Butler. With Harris and Barton out again, Porter will get his chance again to make meaningful contributions. Even as a rookie, MPJ is no stranger to adversity but these seeding games are the first playoff-like games he has every played in. A smart offensive performance (and eve mediocre defense) from him would go a long way in helping the cause.

Will the team actually play like it cares?

The post-game quotes after Saturday’s loss were telling:

Michael Malone: “I thought we had possessions tonight where I saw a lot of guys out there not playing hard... I like guys that play hard. I’m attracted to guys that go out there and no matter what’s going on find a way to give great effort. And we need to find those guys. We had good examples but we didn’t have enough good examples tonight.”

Torrey Craig: “I could sense a lack of energy, a lack of a spark if you will. I think we’ve got to come out and do a better job of rallying together as a team. We can’t have a few guys playing hard and a couple of guys who are lacking energy.”

Nikola Jokic: “We didn’t help each other. We were kind of selfish. Everybody thought, it’s my time, it’s my time. Me first, then everybody else.”

Unfortunately, these lackadaisical efforts aren’t new to this team. For some reason the Nuggets are intent on believing they can just flip the switch whenever it matters and be fine. Maybe they are right but with such a short window heading into the playoffs one would think every game would be treated as important. Though Malone is correct in stating that the only games that really matter are the playoffs, perhaps there is some mixed signaling going on?