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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.