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2013-2014 Game 24 Preview: Thunder Face Rising Nuggets

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It took a huge comeback for the Thunder to fell the Nuggets at home. Can they stave off Denver's relentless offensive attack once more?

Fra-geeee-lay. Must be Italian.
Fra-geeee-lay. Must be Italian.
William Bennett Berry
2013-2014 NBA Season
Won 6

Won 1
December 17th, 2013
The Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
8:00 PM CST
TV: National Basketball Association Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Altitude Sports and Entertainment
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), KKFN 950 AM
Injury Report: Danilo Gallinari (Out), JaVale McGee (Out)
Previous Matchups: Nov 18th (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Ty Lawson
Thabo Sefolosha SG Randy Foye
Kevin Durant SF Wilson Chandler
Serge Ibaka PF Kenneth Faried
Kendrick Perkins C J.J. Hickson
2013/14 Advanced Stats
99.8 (4th) Pace 98.6 (8th)
105.5 (5th) ORtg 103.7 (10th)
97.5 (T-4th) DRtg 101.0 (12th)

Last time these two teams met, the Thunder crashed the glass and mounted a gigantic fourth quarter comeback in order to seize a late game victory against the much feared Nuggets. Some might view the win as a fluke, but I prefer to think of it as ushering in a new era. It was the first time we got to see the Thunder's now-patented triple point guard lineup, and that lineup allowed us to exploit matchup advantages like no other lineup had before. Given its' previous success and subsequent usage, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Thunder trot it out for large portions of the second and fourth quarters tonight.

Of course, Denver might have something to say about that. By all accounts they had a very strong offensive performance against the Thunder last time, only fading late when the Thunder started to stay home on shooters. In fact, the only player on Denver's roster who seemed to have any trouble was Wilson Chandler, and he had to go toe-to-toe with KD all day.

The scariest things about the earlier matchup are twofold: Durant's heavy minutes and missed Denver free throws. Durant played nearly the entire second half, posting bad shooting numbers and not seeing extended success until the late fourth quarter. If the Nuggets jump out to a similarly intimidating lead, I could see Durant getting similarly heavy minutes, and that's usually a bad thing. Moreover, the Nuggets went 25-43 (or 58.1%) from the free throw line, which is an absurdly low percentage in that category. Had the Nuggets been at their average of 71%, they would have won the game easily.

It goes without saying that any strategy that the Thunder employ tonight will have to start and end with defense. Scott Brooks might be best served by going with a small lineup right off the bat, because Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams are liable to rack up fouls and get run off the floor. The only area where the Thunder managed to have any impact against the Nuggets overall in last season's matchup was in their three point defense, keeping Denver to 35%. So unless the Thunder can start generating turnovers (which isn't likely), a quicker and more relaxed defensive strategy might be best.

In terms of personnel, the tail end of the Thunder's rotation still isn't set in stone. Derek Fisher is pretty clearly ahead of Perry Jones III in terms of importance and frequency of play, but there are times where Jones will get more minutes and attention than Fisher. Furthermore, Andre Roberson appears to be confined to the bench when Thabo Sefolosha is healthy, but he did have a spot on the active roster in the Thunder's Sunday win against Orlando. Ryan Gomes now serves as the 14th man, appearing at games in a suit.

On Denver's side of things, Evan Fournier appears to be the odd-man out in their 10 man rotation. He had a string of good nights in November (including a season-high 12 points against the Thunder), but failed to impress in limited minutes recently.

Anyway, tonight's game should be an extremely exciting high-scoring affair. Hopefully Russell Westbrook continues to deny Denver's fans free food, and hopefully the Thunder find a way to keep up with the Nuggets. I'm gonna go ahead and predict a Denver victory just because I feel like they have a number of advantages against the big lineups that the Thunder will undoubtedly trot out. But this game really could go either way.

Prediction: Denver Nuggets 109, Oklahoma City Thunder 103.

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