Thunder-Nuggets: 12-win teams meet in Oklahoma City

The Oklahoma City Thunder are rolling since a season-opening four-game losing streak, but a hot streak still does not prevent coach Billy Donovan from making adjustments.

One adjustment he made was pairing Dennis Schroder with Russell Westbrook in the starting backcourt for the first time this season, and it succeeded.

Schroder and Westbrook may be the starting backcourt again Saturday night when the Thunder host the Denver Nuggets in the first of four meetings between the Northwest Division teams.

Schroder and Westbrook combined for 53 points on 19-of-37 shooting as Oklahoma City recorded a 109-104 victory over the Charlotte Hornets Friday. Westbrook scored 30 while Schroder finished with 23, and big nights by the starting guards helped the Thunder win for the 12th time in 14 games.

“He is a great competitor,” Donovan said of Schroder. “Whichever way the team needs him to be used, he is willing to do that; whether it is playing off the ball alongside Russell or running the second unit. He obviously wants to be out there playing and contributing, which he is, but it doesn’t really make a difference for him. I give him a lot of credit because he just plays. He is a basketball player. He just goes out and plays.”

On Friday, Schroder and Westbrook were on the floor for 18 minutes together. During those minutes, the Thunder outscored Charlotte by 14 and shot 51.5 percent.

“He did a good job of making adjustments,” Westbrook told reporters after scoring at least 30 points for the third time this season.

Schroder scored 23 points after getting 32 as a reserve in Wednesday’s blowout win at Golden State. Schroder has seven games with at least 20 points and is averaging 18.1 points in nine starts this season.

“Since I’ve been here, they’ve been fair to me,” Schroder said. “And I’m a team player, I want to win, and it doesn’t matter if I’m coming off of the bench or if I’m starting. I just want to bring it to the team to win some games.”

Oklahoma City and Denver are two of the 12-win teams in the Northwest along with Portland, which was blown at Golden State Friday. The Thunder and Nuggets also are two of six teams with at least 12 wins in the Western Conference.

Denver will be going for its third straight win after coasting to a 112-87 home win over the Orlando Magic on Friday. The Nuggets followed up a 103-101 win at Minnesota on Wednesday by shooting 47.3 percent and allowing just 19 points in the fourth quarter Friday.

“Once again, our defense led the offense, same (as) with Minnesota,” Denver coach Mike Malone said after his team collected 10 steals, blocked five shots, and limited Orlando to just 40.5-percent shooting from the floor. “And that’s when we’re at our best.”

Before winning its last two games, Denver lost six of seven games, all by 10 points or fewer.

On Friday, Nuggets reserve Trey Lyles scored 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting while fellow reserve Mason Plumlee added 15 on a night when Nikola Jokic was held to six points.

“We’ve got, arguably, one of the best starting fives in the league,” Nuggets point guard Monte Morris said. “So, to have a supporting cast, which is us, on the bench, for us, is great. We just know each other’s tendencies.”

The Nuggets may be shorthanded as starting shooting guard Gary Harris left Friday’s game with a sore left ankle. Malone described it as an “Achilles issue” while Harris was walking without crutches or a walking boot and seemed to think he would play Saturday.

The Nuggets won three of four meetings last season against the Thunder, and the season series was decided by a combined 13 points. In the last meeting on March 30 in Oklahoma City, Paul Millsap scored 36 points in Denver’s 126-125 overtime win.