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.”