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Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets: 2010-2011 Game 77 Preview; Defending the Division Crown

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This also counts as an open thread, so feel free to post your thoughts during the game here.

Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (50-26) vs. The Denver Nuggets (47-29)

Time: 8:00 PM Central Standard Time

Place: The Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado

TV: Fox Sports Net Oklahoma, Altitude Sports

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), KRWZ 950 AM

Enemy Blog(s): Denver Stiffs, The Nugg Doctor, Roundball Mining Company

Previous Meeting(s): Dec. 25th, Jan. 19th (Season Series Tied at 1-1)

After losing the last two games to the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers, the Thunder have made their own bed and must now lie in it. With six games left in the season, they must take the looming threat of the Nuggets seriously. The Nugs are only three games back of the Thunder, and have two matchups against them. So if the Nuggets were able to run the table and the Thunder were to lose to the Lakers on the road, the Thunder will have lost home court advantage in the first round just like that.

Fortunately, the Thunder can put an end to that run here and now. If they win tonight's game against the Nuggets on the road, the Thunder will all but secure the Northwest Division and home court advantage. But, if they lose tonight, the Thunder will find themselves in the midst of a three game losing streak and under intense public pressure. In other words, most basketball diehards know that this game is important, but if we lose this game, word will get out to the fairweather and bandwagon fans, increasing public pressure and giving the Nuggets hope.

Below: When We Last Saw Each Other, Advantages and Disadvantages, Injuries, Depth, Prediction!

It's been a while since the Thunder and Nuggets have seen each other. Way back on January 19th, the Nuggets still had Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder still had Jeff Green, and there was still snow outside! The Nuggets were a team in transition, and the Thunder were a team trying to find an identity. But, this game should remain largely a similar matchup. Kevin Durant will still have a scoring battle, except this time it will be with Danilo Gallinari. The Nuggets will still look to defeat the Thunder in the paint with Nene and K-Mart, but the Thunder will try to win defensively rather than shooting circles around them. The game will still be a high-scoring affair, but there will be more threes taken on both sides. In essence, both teams have evolved into more threatening beasts.

Aaron Affalo and Chris Andersen are game time decisions for tonight, but Timofey Mozgov and Wilson Chandler are more than suitable replacements, so it won't be a huge deal. But if there's one thing the Nuggets have, it's depth. And while the Thunder aren't exactly thin, I don't think anyone would be thrilled to see Cole Aldrich or Royal Ivey get meaningful minutes tonight. Thus, it's really a contest between talent and depth. The Nuggets will have advantages during the lulls in the second and third quarters, but the Thunder will have a slight advantage when their starters are fresh. Despite that, this game will come down to the final minutes. These are two very similar and strong teams, and it's hard to tell what will put either team on top. Teamwork? Talent? A bad technical? The home crowd? An injury? It's impossible to know, but my gut feeling has the Nuggets winning this game. They just beat the Lakers on the road, and they're playing like an unstoppable team with few holes, while the Thunder are playing like an emotional roller-coaster that forgets how to play offense. The pieces will start to come back together tonight, but we're just not back to an elite level yet.

Prediction: Denver 112, Oklahoma City 110