Nuggets-Thunder Preview

After he makes a big shot, Russell Westbrook likes to gesture
with his hands as though they’re pistols and then blow the pretend
smoke away.

But did he get too trigger-happy in Game 4?

After Oklahoma City’s All-Star point guard attempted 30 shots
for just the third time in his career as the Denver Nuggets cut
their series deficit to 3-1, even his coach thought so.

”You can’t play great basketball every time. His heart and
determination are always in the right spot. That’s all I care about
with Russell,” Thunder coach Brooks said Tuesday.

”Did he take too many shots? Absolutely. But that being said,
you learn from it and you move on and you get better from it.
Russell is a player that will get better every year.”

Brooks said that Westbrook wasn’t the only Thunder player who
didn’t play at his best during a 104-101 loss in Denver on Monday
night, and he found other reasons Oklahoma City didn’t pull off the
sweep than his point guard’s high-volume shooting night.

Namely, defense.

The Thunder allowed the Nuggets their most points in six
meetings this month, having won the previous five. Brooks wasn’t
happy with Oklahoma City’s interior defense early, its 3-point
defense in the second half and he saw too many fouls
throughout.

”I would like to say that we’re going to win every game and
we’re going to have multiple sweeps, but that’s not the way this
league works,” Brooks said. ”There’s usually two teams that are
trying to win, and they did.

”We knew that they were going to give us their best shot. They
were a desperate team. … Any athlete that has any self pride is
not going to want to get beat by a team every time you play
them.”

Denver got a career playoff best 27 points from Ty Lawson and 18
second-half points from Danilo Gallinari in winning Game 4, sending
the series back to Oklahoma City for Game 5 on Wednesday night.

”The mood’s good right now. We got the monkey off our back and
put it on theirs,” Lawson said after the Nuggets arrived at their
hotel Tuesday evening.

”So, we’ll try to put a little pressure on them with a good
game here and go back home.”

At the Thunder’s practice facility, Westbrook shrugged off
suggestions that he took too many shots.

The only two other times he’d had more than 25 field goal
attempts in a game came in a triple-overtime win at New Jersey this
season that NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant missed with an ankle
injury and a loss at Dallas two seasons ago when Durant left in the
first quarter.

”Just another game,” Westbrook said. ”We didn’t win as a
team, and a tough loss for us.”

Westbrook’s frequent firing was highlighted when he missed three
3-pointers in the final minute with the Thunder within striking
distance. He finished 0-for-7 from 3-point range and 12-for-30
overall, scoring 30 points.

Durant had 31 points on 8-for-18 shooting, making five of his
six 3-point attempts, but wasn’t about to call his teammate a ball
hog.

”He’s a star, too,” Durant said. ”You know, he’s an All-Star,
too. He’s shown that he can win games for us. He did it before. I
felt that I had to play my role.”

Brooks said he’d consider 30 shots a lot in a game for any
player on his team, but his primary complaint about Westbrook was
location and not volume. Instead of attacking the basket, or even
his best shooting range, Brooks thought Westbrook was settling too
much for long jumpers.

”He’s a terrific mid-range shooter and when he gets to that
sweet spot, he knocks that down,” Brooks said. ”I don’t look at
Russell’s game last night and say, `You know what? The sky is
falling.’ He’s a terrific player. He has improved a lot, and he is
going to get better.

”You’re not seeing Russell at this level for the rest of his
career. He will develop into a better player.”

What Brooks wants just as much, though, is a return to Oklahoma
City’s strong defensive ways against Denver. The Thunder had held
the Nuggets below 95 points in four of their six meetings this
month, including a pair of 89-point outings by the NBA’s
highest-scoring team.

Denver shot 44 and 45 free throws in the two games on its home
court in the series.

”I think we’re definitely fouling too much,” Brooks said. ”I
think they’re averaging 40 free throws a game against us. That
leads the league by 10. You want to do a better job of
defending.

”I’ve always felt if you’re a good defensive team, you’re not
fouling as much.”

Just who should be the focal point of that defense could be in
question on a Nuggets team without Carmelo Anthony. Joining Lawson
and Gallinari with big games on Monday was J.R. Smith, who was
benched in Game 2 for his role in Oklahoma City’s blowout win.

Wilson Chandler, who has made just one of 14 shots in the last
three games, took over Smith’s spot on the sidelines in Game 4.

”That’s the nature of NBA playoff basketball. No one’s
consistent in NBA playoff basketball,” Nuggets coach George Karl
said. ”Some guys can get 40 one night and the next night they can
be 4-for-20. That’s adjustments, and the other team says, `No,
you’re not going to do that.’

”I think we have to be ready for that and the depth of our
team’s got to be ready for it, whoever gets the hot hand or the
opportunity.”