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.