Nuggets-Thunder Preview

Serge Ibaka has been on quite a run, one he has a good chance to
keep going Monday night.

Ibaka and the Oklahoma City Thunder will open a six-game
homestand against a Denver Nuggets team which has an undersized
frontcourt and struggled defensively over the weekend, particularly
in the paint.

The improving Ibaka provides another problem on defense for
Denver, allowing 104.6 points per game, besides having to deal with
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant is averaging a
league-high 28.4 points and Westbrook is tops among point guards at
21.7.

While Westbrook and Durant did their usual damage Saturday with
a combined 50 points, Ibaka added 15 and tied a career high with 20
rebounds as Oklahoma City (6-3) avoided a winless three-game road
trip with a 92-79 victory in Milwaukee.

“His 15 and 20 was one of his best games,” coach Scott Brooks
said. “He’s standing out as a guy that can get 10 rebounds a night
and he’s been pretty consistent. That’s what makes you a very good
pro, that consistency.”

It was Ibaka’s fourth double-double in six games, a stretch
during which he’s averaging 18.0 points on 64.3 percent shooting
with 11.5 boards and 2.7 blocks. It’s an impressive run for a
player with career averages of 9.9 points and 7.2 rebounds.

“(Ibaka) is cleaning up everything for us, rebounding, blocking
shots, making shots,” Durant told the team’s official website. “We
want him to keep playing the way he’s playing. He’s doing
everything for us.”

The 6-foot-10 Ibaka could be headed for another big night
considering the Nuggets (4-5) have been starting three forwards –
none taller than 6-9 – with center JaVale McGee sidelined by a
broken leg.

Denver gave up 56 points in the paint in a 117-113 home victory
over Minnesota on Friday, then allowed 62 in a 122-111 defeat at
Houston on Saturday to snap its three-game win streak. Star big men
Kevin Love and Dwight Howard totaled 53 points.

“We just have to get better defensively as a team,” forward J.J.
Hickson said. “The biggest thing we need to improve is the help
side defense. … It’s up to us individually to take care of our
matchups and to know our schemes.”

Ibaka averaged 11.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in last season’s
four meetings, and the Thunder lost three, but that’s when the
Nuggets had 7-footers McGee and Kostas Koufos. With McGee out and
Koufos traded to Memphis, the only player in coach Brian Shaw’s
regular rotation taller than 6-9 is Timofey Mozgov, but he doesn’t
provide the same kind of presence defensively.

Center Kendrick Perkins returned Saturday after missing two
games following the death of his grandfather and helped Oklahoma
City hold an opponent below 90 points for the first time this
season.

The Thunder are 3-0 at home – every other Western Conference
team has had at least five home games – and won’t leave Oklahoma
again until visiting Sacramento on Dec. 3.

Denver is 1-3 on the road but did win 114-104 at Oklahoma City
in the last meeting March 19 behind Ty Lawson’s 25 points.

Lawson had 28 points and a career-high 17 assists Saturday, but
starting backcourt mate Randy Foye scored eight on 2-of-12
shooting. Foye has shot 28.6 percent (12 of 42) over the past five
games.