Thunder-Nuggets Preview

Though the Oklahoma City Thunder score more than any other team

in the NBA, it might be an improving defense that proves to be the

difference in their title chase.

Friday night will see that defense face a tough test when the

Thunder visit the Denver Nuggets, whose high-octane attack has been

bolstered by Ty Lawson’s emergence as a dynamic scorer.

Oklahoma City (42-15) leads the league with 106.8 points per

game, and Denver has moved up to third (105.5) while averaging

112.6 during its current 13-4 surge.

A season-worst three-game losing streak seems like a distant

memory for the Thunder, who have since won three in row by an

average of 30.3 points. As impressive as the offense has been

during that span, averaging 116.0 points, the defense has been just

as good in the last two games as opponents averaged 73.0 points on

31.9 percent shooting.

“We are doing great on defense,” Russell Westbrook told the

team’s official website after a 119-74 home win over New Orleans on

Wednesday.

Oklahoma City matched its largest margin of victory this season

and held an opponent below 75 points for the third time in

February.

“We are playing off our defense and getting stops and let the

offense take care of itself,” Westbrook added. “It all starts with

defense regardless of what we are doing offensively.”

Westbrook scored a game-high 29 while Kevin Durant posted his

second triple-double since the All-Star break with 18 points, 11

rebounds and 10 assists.

Durant tied a season low with eight field-goal attempts and had

fewer than 20 points for the third time in four games, a stretch

during which he’s averaged 11.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists.

“I think Kevin continues to make a concerted effort to be a

leader by example in terms of playing the game the right way and

not being overly concerned with how many points he scores each

night, but really just making the right plays,” Derek Fisher

said.

Fisher was scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting in his first game with

the Thunder after signing with them for the stretch run for the

second straight season. Ronnie Brewer had five points in 12 minutes

in his debut after being acquired in a trade with New York.

The Thunder have dropped four of five on the road and now visit

a Nuggets team which is one of the league’s best at home, winning

nine in a row and 14 of 15.

Denver (37-22) has surpassed 110 points in four straight overall

as Lawson continues to fuel the scoring.

The point guard has at least 20 points in eight consecutive

games, the longest such streak of his career. He is averaging 26.1

points on 52.8 percent shooting over that span but hasn’t stopped

making plays for teammates, with his 8.0 assists per game

surpassing his season mark of 7.1.

Coach George Karl has started to lean more on Lawson for

offense, and he came through with 30 points in a 111-109 win at

Portland on Wednesday.

“I just said to him, ‘We’re not gonna run any more plays,'” Karl

said of what he told Lawson late in the game. “‘You’ve got one

option, go into the paint and find it. Find the shot, not someone

else.'”

The fourth-year pro’s heightened scoring may be more crucial if

top scorer Danilo Gallinari (bruised thigh) missed a third straight

game.

This season series has seen each team win on its home floor,

including a 121-118 Denver victory in overtime Jan. 20. Lawson

totaled 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting in those two games.

Over the last five meetings, Durant is averaging 32.8 points and

Westbrook is at 32.2.