Records: The Denver Nuggets (50-32) vs. The Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) Time: 8:30 PM Central Standard Time Place: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma TV: FSOKHD, Altitude Sports Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), KHTK 1140 AM
Records: The Denver Nuggets (50-32) vs. The Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)
Time: 8:30 PM Central Standard Time
Place: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TV: FSOKHD, Altitude Sports
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), KHTK 1140 AM
At long last, we have reached the point many of us have been thinking about ever since Pau Gasol tipped in the winning bucket a year ago. From that point up until today, pundits and fans have asked the question of whether the Thunder are ready to take the leap. We've got 82 games of evidence, four regular season games against the Nuggets, countless analyses from all sectors of the Internet, and ultimately, the only way we can know for sure is for the teams to play the games.
What do we have to expect for Game One of Round One?
If you have been watching the NBA playoffs for any length of time, you know that in the beginning of each series there is a "feeling out stage" where each team tests the other's resolve. Play is uneven, players get used to how the refs will call things, and each team will be looking to establish a position of dominance.
As such, game one is always a risky endeavor because a more experienced team can jump on a lesser one, even if the less-experienced team is on paper more talented. The memory I immediately have when I think about this reality is the 2007 playoffs when a very good Phoenix Suns team invited the good-but-not-great San Antonio Spurs team into their house for Game One. The Spurs, less talented but more experienced, took a battering ram to the Suns both literally and figuratively. The Suns, shocked at losing their hard-earned home court advantage so easily, never recovered and lost to the less talented team. This scenario could easily play itself out with the Thunder if they are not fully invested in the moment. Look for Denver to try to make this a statement kind of game, and let's hope the Thunder are mentally ready for this reality check.
Here are some other keys to watch for:
- Whoever takes control of the game mentally will also take control of the game actually. George Karl has been trying to play games through the media to take the Thunder off their center of focus. Tonight we'll see if his ploy is successful.
- The Nuggets will try to get Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka in foul trouble early. I do think the Nuggets realize that they cannot defeat the Thunder with a straight strength-on-strength battle, so they will need to find alternate means. The easiest way of course is to get those two guys off the court.
- Russell Westbrook must keep his head in the game. In the April 5th game, the outcome was in doubt when Westbrook temporarily lost sight of the team concept and tried to counter Ty Lawson's big game. As a result, he did all the things we've seen him do that hurt the Thunder - bad decisions, bad drives, turnovers, and offensive fouls. When he stays within his role, as in the April 8th game, he's a completely different, and dominant player.
- The Nuggets will be searching for a secondary scorer. They did not have the offense they needed to compete late in the season, and they will look to guys like Danilo Gallinari to increase their production. The Thunder are usually content to let one player have his cake, but not two. They must find the Nuggets' secondary scorer and shut him down.
- Kevin Durant must continue to drive on the Nuggets. Aside from Kenyon Martin, I don't know if any of the Denver players are strong enough to stop him, and his driving to the rim broke open the last two games.
If you missed the preview exchange I did with the Denver Stiffs, you can find our posts here:
It's almost time to strap yourselves in for the ride. This series should be a good one.
Prediction: Thunder 100, Nuggets 95