The Denver Nuggets (14-22) fell to tenth place in the Western Conference, thanks to four straight defeats, three of which came at the Pepsi Center. A couple of nights ago, Denver was demolished by the San Antonio Spurs, 99-127, mostly because of an awful shooting night from the perimeter, 7-25. Only four Denver players reached double digits as Nikola Jokic led them with a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds, along with five assists. Danilo Gallinari added 15 points and three boards, Darrell Arthur had 13 points and four rebounds, while Wilson Chandler ended the game with 11 points and seven rebounds. Kenneth Faried missed the previous three games with a back injury and is listed as questionable for tonight’s clash, while the Nuggets’ best player at the moment, Nikola Jokic, is dealing with an illness and is also questionable to feature.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (21-16) have lost three consecutive games, and four in their last five, but they are still only one win behind the division leaders, the Utah Jazz. At least the Thunder are playing well at home where they've won seven out of their last ten matches. Their most recent loss came in Houston against the Rockets, 116-118, despite winning the final quarter by 12 points. Russell Westbrook had a monstrous night with 49 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and two steals, while Victor Oladipo followed him with 17 points and seven boards. Enes Kanter led the bench with a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds; Andre Roberson added 14 points, nine rebounds, and two rejections, but the rest of the players pretty much disappointed. Billy Donovan is happy to have all of his players injury-free and ready for this tilt tonight.
Keys to the Game
• Nikola Jokic’s form of his life. Jokic became the most significant player on Mike Malone’s roster after establishing himself as a starting center, sending Jusuf Nurkic to the bench. Probably the most versatile big man in the NBA, Jokic is averaging 20.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in the last two weeks and his performance tonight (if he plays) will be crucial to the Nuggets’ chances for a win.
• Improved outside shooting. After scoring only seven threes against the Spurs, Denver has to improve in that segment of the game, or else they will face another defeat. They have some fantastic shooters such as Gallinari and Chandler, but Harris, Jokic, Arthur, Barton, and Nelson can all contribute from the perimeter as well, so it’s inexplicable how they made only seven a couple of nights ago.
Oklahoma City Thunder
• Russell Westbrook to run the show. Russ is without a doubt a leading candidate for the MVP title this year as he’s averaging a triple-double per game. In the last 14 days, Westbrook averaged 30.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 8.4 assists, and although his assists numbers went down a bit following Oladipo’s return to the floor, he could be near another triple-double-performance here in a probably high-scoring game with Denver. Last time the Thunder met the Nuggets back in November, Westbrook had 36 points, 18 assists, and 12 rebounds.
• Interior defence. Adams and Kanter will have to pay special attention to Jokic in the paint, while the rest of Denver’s players like to take it to the rim when the outside shot is missing, so the defensive skills of Oklahoma’s frontcourt could play a significant role in this match.
Denver Nuggets Projected Starting Lineup
PG – Mudiay / SG – Harris / SF – Gallinari / PF – Chandler / C – Jokic
Jokic, Gallo, and Chandler should lead Denver in points, while Harris and Barton could be solid contributors as well.
Oklahoma City Thunder Projected Starting Lineup
PG – Westbrook / SG – Oladipo / SF – Roberson / PF – Sabonis / C – Adams
Oladipo should be Westbrook’s best support, while Adams and Kanter will dominate in the paint, but Adams need to step up after a disappointing game at Houston.
Oklahoma is very good at home, while Denver is not having a great time away from the Pepsi Center, so I a backing the Thunder to come out victorious here.
Tip-off is at 8pm ET - Chesapeake Energy Arena – Oklahoma City, OK
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