Emmanuel Mudiay
Nuggets-Thunder Preview
Emmanuel Mudiay

Nuggets-Thunder Preview

Published Dec. 27, 2015 1:35 a.m. ET

Even the high-scoring Oklahoma City Thunder can be prone to cold stretches, though they generally haven't lasted long.

The Thunder look to bounce back from one of their worst offensive showings of the season when they host the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.

After averaging 112.7 points on 51.9 percent shooting over three consecutive wins, the Thunder were held to 38.5 percent in Friday's 105-96 loss to Chicago. The Bulls scored the first 11 points and led 86-68 after three quarters in halting Oklahoma City's eight-game home winning streak.

"We didn't have any energy to start the game or the third quarter and they got us," forward Kevin Durant said. "When shots don't go in we still have to play defense and we still have to be smart out there. We weren't smart (Friday). We just made dumb plays all night."


The Thunder (20-10), whose 107.4 points per game trails only Golden State, had been held to 38 percent or below twice previously. They shot over 50 percent and scored at least 114 points in both subsequent games, and have won nine of 11 since last losing two straight from Nov. 30-Dec. 3.

"It's the ability to concentrate, be focused and be detailed," coach Billy Donovan said. "What you have to do is challenge yourself mentally, from a discipline standpoint to maybe find areas you can take advantage."

Oklahoma City had little trouble generating offense in a 117-93 rout of visiting Denver on Nov. 1, the Nuggets' fifth consecutive loss at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Durant had 25 points in 28 minutes and Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook combined for 33 on 15-of-26 shooting.

Defense hasn't been the Nuggets' strong suit, as they rank in the NBA's bottom tier in scoring defense (103.3 per game) and opposing field goal percentage (46.0).

Denver (12-18) also may lack the firepower to keep up with the Thunder with leading scorer Danilo Gallinari to miss a fourth straight game with a sprained left ankle. Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay hasn't played since Dec. 11 due to a right ankle sprain, and coach Mike Malone said he expects both to remain sidelined for at least another week.

The offense struggled without Gallinari in Saturday's 101-86 defeat at San Antonio, during which the Spurs used a pivotal 22-9 second-quarter run to hand the Nuggets a fourth loss in five games.

"I told our team I thought we did a lot of good things tonight," Malone said. "You take out that six-minute stretch in the second quarter and we did a great job of playing against these guys."

Nikola Jokic provided one of the bright spots with 22 points off the bench. The rookie center is averaging 15.8 points and shooting 63.4 percent over his last four, establishing himself as a key part of one of the league's highest scoring second units.

Denver has shot just 39.0 percent while averaging 93.5 points over its last four visits to Oklahoma City, where it last won on March 19, 2013.

Slowing down Durant also figures to be a challenge. The four-time scoring champion had 29 points on Friday and is averaging 32.0 in his last seven matchups with Denver.


Emmanuel Mudiay
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