Thunder-Nuggets Preview

Though the Oklahoma City Thunder score more than any other team
in the NBA, it might be an improving defense that proves to be the
difference in their title chase.

Friday night will see that defense face a tough test when the
Thunder visit the Denver Nuggets, whose high-octane attack has been
bolstered by Ty Lawson’s emergence as a dynamic scorer.

Oklahoma City (42-15) leads the league with 106.8 points per
game, and Denver has moved up to third (105.5) while averaging
112.6 during its current 13-4 surge.

A season-worst three-game losing streak seems like a distant
memory for the Thunder, who have since won three in row by an
average of 30.3 points. As impressive as the offense has been
during that span, averaging 116.0 points, the defense has been just
as good in the last two games as opponents averaged 73.0 points on
31.9 percent shooting.

“We are doing great on defense,” Russell Westbrook told the
team’s official website after a 119-74 home win over New Orleans on
Wednesday.

Oklahoma City matched its largest margin of victory this season
and held an opponent below 75 points for the third time in
February.

“We are playing off our defense and getting stops and let the
offense take care of itself,” Westbrook added. “It all starts with
defense regardless of what we are doing offensively.”

Westbrook scored a game-high 29 while Kevin Durant posted his
second triple-double since the All-Star break with 18 points, 11
rebounds and 10 assists.

Durant tied a season low with eight field-goal attempts and had
fewer than 20 points for the third time in four games, a stretch
during which he’s averaged 11.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists.

“I think Kevin continues to make a concerted effort to be a
leader by example in terms of playing the game the right way and
not being overly concerned with how many points he scores each
night, but really just making the right plays,” Derek Fisher
said.

Fisher was scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting in his first game with
the Thunder after signing with them for the stretch run for the
second straight season. Ronnie Brewer had five points in 12 minutes
in his debut after being acquired in a trade with New York.

The Thunder have dropped four of five on the road and now visit
a Nuggets team which is one of the league’s best at home, winning
nine in a row and 14 of 15.

Denver (37-22) has surpassed 110 points in four straight overall
as Lawson continues to fuel the scoring.

The point guard has at least 20 points in eight consecutive
games, the longest such streak of his career. He is averaging 26.1
points on 52.8 percent shooting over that span but hasn’t stopped
making plays for teammates, with his 8.0 assists per game
surpassing his season mark of 7.1.

Coach George Karl has started to lean more on Lawson for
offense, and he came through with 30 points in a 111-109 win at
Portland on Wednesday.

“I just said to him, ‘We’re not gonna run any more plays,'” Karl
said of what he told Lawson late in the game. “‘You’ve got one
option, go into the paint and find it. Find the shot, not someone
else.'”

The fourth-year pro’s heightened scoring may be more crucial if
top scorer Danilo Gallinari (bruised thigh) missed a third straight
game.

This season series has seen each team win on its home floor,
including a 121-118 Denver victory in overtime Jan. 20. Lawson
totaled 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting in those two games.

Over the last five meetings, Durant is averaging 32.8 points and
Westbrook is at 32.2.