Thunder aims to halt slide against Nuggets

The Oklahoma City Thunder hit what everyone thought was a soft spot in their schedule, but it hasn't worked out that way.

The Thunder, who were a quarter away from reaching the NBA Finals last season, have lost three straight and seven of their last nine. They will try to get things turned around when they visit the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.

Oklahoma City is still adjusting to the departure of Kevin Durant, who signed with Golden State in the offseason. The growing pains are apparent but the Thunder still have one of the best guards in Russell Westbrook.

“It maybe it sounds like a little bit of a broken record, but it's kind of where we're at,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan told normantranscript.com. “And we're working towards getting better and improving.”

The Thunder (8-8) started the season strong but after losing on consecutive nights to the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, they are now tied with Utah for first place. Denver (6-9), despite its injury problems and shuffling lineups to try and find consistency, isn't far off the pace.

The Nuggets lost to the Jazz 108-83 on Wednesday night, ending their modest two-game winning streak. It was their third game in four nights.

“Tonight we didn't answer the bell, which is disappointing,” Denver coach Michael Malone told The Denver Post. “But we'll get back at it, look at what we have to clean up and try to come out on Friday night against Oklahoma City with a greater sense of energy and urgency to start the game.”

The Nuggets were without small forward Danilo Gallinari for the game in Utah because of a right thigh injury, and his status for Friday's game is unknown. Gallinari is Denver's second-leading scorer and has a penchant for getting to the line, but the thigh has been bothering him and finally forced him to sit.

“It hurts stretching it. It hurts when I tighten the muscle. It started giving me discomfort even when I walk,” Gallinari told The Denver Post. “I'm sure that maybe the worst thing is it's a strain. That's the worst-case scenario. The best-case scenario is just a bruise that is not behaving right. Usually with a bruise you get better by playing because you get the blood flowing. But this is not getting better, it's getting worse.”

Malone started 19-year-old rookie Juancho Hernangomez in place of Gallinari on Wednesday and he scored nine points in 27 minutes. His fellow rookie, Jamal Murray, had another strong game with 23 points in 35 minutes off the bench.

Murray is averaging 21.7 points in his last three games, giving Denver a boost off the bench.

“He is playing with ease,” Malone said Tuesday night. “He's shooting into a hula hoop right now. He's feeling very confident and the guys are finding him.”

Murray will have his hands full if he faces up against Westbrook. Despite the Thunder's struggles, Westbrook is playing at a high level. He is averaging a double-double with an NBA-best 31.8 points a game as well as 10.6 assists. His 9.6 rebounds per game nearly has him averaging nearly a triple-double.

The gaudy stats aren't helping the Thunder win lately, but he is a force and will set the tone against the Nuggets.

“Just got to be ready to play, man,” he told normantranscript.com. “Very plain and simple.”