Game Day Preview: Nuggets @ Thunder, Which team will end losing streak?

Looking to halt a 3-game losing skid the Oklahoma City Thunder return home for a rare January match and play host to the Denver Nuggets.  Game Preview breaks down the match.

With resolutions set for 2017, the OKC Thunder are probably wishing for a ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ reset. That’s because the last win collected by OKC occurred on the final day of 2016. Since then the squad has played 3 road games, all resulting in losses.  Although it’s not a ‘must win’ scenario, it does feel necessary given tonight is one of only 3 games the Thunder will play at home this month.

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Both teams desperate for a win:

Just like the first time these teams met (November 25), OKC enters on a 3-game losing streak. In an ideal world the Thunder would replicate history via a win followed by a 6-game winning streak. That’s an extremely optimistic outlook given the road games and level of competition, but hey, I’ll throw it out into the universe anyway.

Like OKC, the Nuggets enter on a losing streak (4 games) and an angry head coach who is extremely frustrated. Following the Nuggets loss to the Kings, Mike Malone called out his team, citing Denver as having the worst defense in the NBA. He further called out his veterans for not providing  leadership.

Related Story: Does Russell Westbrook need a shot limit from three?

Malone later apologized, specifically for his comments referencing a lack of leadership saying those comments should be kept behind closed doors. With the spotlight squarely on Denver’s veterans, tonight’s game will offer insight into how much respect they have for Malone.

Numbers from first meeting:

Coincidentally, the November 25th game featured solid veteran production from three Nuggets.  Wilson Chandler, Jameer Nelson and Kenneth Faried led the way combining for 65 points 23 rebounds and 18 assists.

One of the interesting comments Malone made in his rant was 2 of the youngest players are the ones speaking up in the locker room. I wonder if rookie Jamal Murray is one of those players. Murray provided 20 points and 7 rebounds in the first game and will no doubt be looking to replicate that effort.

As for the Thunder, the backcourt of Westbrook and Oladipo led the way with Russ posting his sixth triple-double (36 points,11 rebounds,17 assists) and Oladipo producing a complete stat line (26 P/4R/7A and 3 steals).

The teams won’t play again until the end of the season when OKC face Denver in 2 of their final 3 games.

Will Westbrook’s dance partner return tonight?

Speculation is Cameron Payne will make his long awaited debut this evening for the Thunder. This week he played a few games with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s D-League affiliate.

RELATED CONTENT:  Oklahoma City Thunder: Three Point Shooting By The Numbers

Payne used these games for conditioning  to help get him back his timing and flow.  Most notably he connected on 6 of 7 threes in the last outing.

Keys to Win:

Attack Denver’s 30th ranked defense: Malone wasn’t just throwing out arbitrary comments regarding the Nuggets defense, they do rank 30th defensively allowing 110.1 points per game.

Capitalize on strengths: Denver rank 30th in the Association at translating turnovers into points. This is partially a factor of the Nuggets low ranking defense and failure to garner many steals (28th: 6.6) or blocks (26th: 3.9).

With arguably the best platoon of young centers in the NBA, it’s odd the Nuggets produce so few blocks. Where Nurkic and Jokic make up for these shortcomings is on the boards (2nd offensive boards and total rebounds and 5th defensive board) and scoring in the paint (4th: 47.6).  The problem is Jokic, Arthur and Faried are all listed as game time decisions. Should they miss the game, this presents a major advantage for the Thunder.

RELATED CONTENT:  Victor Oladipo’s injury has oddly helped out the Thunder

Ball and Player movement:  As many of the TI staff have noted, the Thunder played some of their best offense while Oladipo was out.  Perhaps it’s a matter of the team all raising their level of play, but it sure felt more like the squad did all the simple things.

Ball and player movement were stellar in the 5 wins during Oladipo’s absence with the team averaging 24.8 assists per game. Even with Dipo’s return versus the Clippers, they maintained the average with 25 assists. However, during the Thunder’s 3-game losing streak they’ve regressed to an average of 19 assists per game.

With the likelihood Payne returns it offers another ball distributor, so there is no reason for excuses.

RELATED STORY: Three reasons for the Thunder’s three-game losing streak.

Bottom Line:

With the Thunder spending most of January on the road and in a 3-game slump, Denver offers an opportunity for OKC to get their first win of 2017.

Westbrook is feeling the shade of not making the cut in the first round of All-Star ballots and he won’t be happy with the loss in Houston or how the game ended.  Russ has frequently demonstrated the ability to turn lulls or disappointments into positives. It’s also been a week (Clippers) since he registered a triple-double which has me number 17 may be forthcoming.

Ultimately, Westbrook needs to keep things simple and utilize his favorite song and dance partners to get back in the win column.

Rotations:

Oklahoma City Thunder Starters:

Point Guard:  Russell Westbrook
Shooting Guard:  Victor Oladipo
Small ForwardAndre Roberson
Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
CenterSteven Adams

RELATED CONTENT: NBA Coach of the Year: The Case for Billy Donovan

Oklahoma City Thunder Bench:

Point GuardCameron Payne, Semaj Christon
Shooting Guard: Alex AbrinesAnthony Morrow,
Small Forward: Jerami Grant, Kyle Singler,
Power Forward: Nick Collison
Center: Enes KanterJoffrey Lauvergne

Injuries:

  • Although Cameron Payne is listed as a game time decision the expectation is that he’ll play.

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Image reference: NBA.
Full stats available via nba.com/thunder

Denver Nuggets Starters:

Point Guard: Emmanuel Mudiay
Shooting Guard: Gary Harris
Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari
Power Forward: Darrell Arthur
Center: Jusef Nurkic

Denver Nuggets Bench:

Point Guard: Jameer Nelson
Shooting Guard: Will Barton, Jamal Murray, Mike Miller, *Malik Beasley
Small Forward: Wilson Chandler
Power Forward: *Juan Hernangomez
Center:

Injuries and Notes:

  • Nikola Jokic – illness, questionable for Saturday
  • Kenneth Faried – back, game time decision
  • Darrell Arthur – left knee soreness, probable
  • On January 4th Hernangomez and Beasley were sent  to Sioux Falls Skyforce D-League. with Faried, Jokic and Arthur all potentially missing the game there is a possibility Hernangomez could be called back up.

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Image reference: NBA.
Full stats available via nba.com/nuggets

Recent History: Merging games played as the Seattle Super Sonics/Thunder the all time record has OKC holding a 95-75 edge.

Counting just the Thunder vs Nuggets games again it’s OKC who hold the edge 18-14. Entering the match the Thunder are on a 7-game win streak and over the squads last 13 games the Thunder are 11-2.

The VenueChesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Tip: 8:00 PM EST (7:00 PM CT)

TV: FS Oklahoma HD

RadioWWLS 98.1FM OKC / 930AM (ESP)

The Line: the odds makers obviously have more faith in the Thunder as they’ve made them 7.5 point favorites with an over- under of 221 points.  Early action is heavy (68%) on the Thunder.

Referee Assignment: Tom Washington (#49), Pat Fraher (#26) and Jacyn Goble (#68) are the assigned zebra crew for the night.

Must Read: NBA Rookie Report, Top Performers though January 2017

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