The Denver Nuggets (4-3) are back in action tonight after being off since Sunday night. This will conclude their brief two-game road trip as they match up with the Oklahoma City Thunder (4-3) who have surprised some opponents coming out of the gate. This is the first of four winnable games in a row for the Nuggets, and they need to start stacking some early wins in a crowded Western conference.

This will be the second matchup between these two teams after Denver knocked off OKC in their home opener on October 22nd with a 122-117 win after the two teams battled it out for four quarters. They’ve been up and down so far this season, but some of that has to be associated with health issues as they’ve been juggling their rotation nearly every night since Game 1.

For OKC, they’re playing with house money so far this season. They’ve knocked off the LA Clippers twice, and they got a road win over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night. For a team that has won a combined 46 games over the last two seasons and wasn’t expected to be a contender this year, they’re showing they might be a little further along than anyone thought they would be.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (4-3, 1-3 away) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (4-3, 3-1 home)

When: 6:00 p.m. MST

Where: Paycom Center

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in Oklahoma City. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Welcome to Loud City

Expected Starting Lineups:

OKC: PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, SG Josh Giddey, SF Aaron Wiggins, PF Luguentz Dort, C Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SF Michael Porter Jr., PF Aaron Gordon, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Collin Gillespie (leg), Bones Hyland (hip), Ish Smith (calf)

Three Things to Watch

Slowing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Priority number one for tonight has to be the team’s attention to point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Shai has been one of the league’s most tantalizing players over the last two seasons. He’s gotten shut down near the end of the season when the team was trying to tank because he’s just too good and can win a game by himself at times. This season, he’s averaging 31.5 points per game while shooting a career-best 51.8 percent from the field. In 3 of his last four games vs Denver, he’s scored 27 or more points, including 28 last month. He is the main focus when playing against OKC.

Jokic’s Aggressiveness

We’re only seven games into the season, but we’ve seen a more passive Nikola Jokic to start the season than we’ve seen over the past couple of years. Part of that is the fact that he had little to no supporting cast over that span due to injuries, but it’s important for him to show that aggressiveness because of the effect it has on the rest of the roster. When he’s getting active underneath and trying to score, the defense is forced to send multiple defenders his way or give him a one-on-one matchup that he’ll win more often than not. However, when he’s passive and trying to get the rest of the offense going, it’s not quite as effective. A strong first quarter would go a long way towards the path the rest of the game would take.

Denver’s Bench Minutes

Until further notice, this is going to be a key matchup to watch every single night. Denver’s bench has shown flashes of potential on occasion, but they have yet to put together a consistent string of good performances. In the first matchup of these two teams, Bruce Brown had the best plus/minus at -5 while the other four second unit guys were all a -10 or worse. This unit has to smooth out the kinks to get rolling more consistently.