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2012-2013 Game 68 Preview: Thunder See Meltingly Hot Nuggets

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The Miami Heat are tearing it up right now, and are in danger of breaking one of the most untouchable records in NBA history. But I'm here to tell you that that's not nearly the most exciting thing going on in basketball right now.

"Where's Texas? WHERE'S TEXAS!"
"Where's Texas? WHERE'S TEXAS!"
William Bennett Berry
2012-2013 NBA Season
The Denver Nuggets (46-22)
The Oklahoma City Thunder (50-17)
March 19th, 2013
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7 PM Central Daylight Time
National Basketball Association Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Altitude Sports 2
WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), KZBR 97.1 FM
Enemy Blogs: Denver Stiffs, Roundball Mining Company, Nugg Love
Previous Meetings: Jan 16th, Jan 20th, Mar 1st (Nuggets Lead Season Series 2-1)
Injury Report: Hasheem Thabeet (Unknown)
Probable Starters
Ty Lawson PG Russell Westbrook
Andre Iguodala SG Thabo Sefolosha
Danilo Gallinari SF Kevin Durant
Kenneth Faried PF Serge Ibaka
Kosta Koufos C Kendrick Perkins

The Miami Heat are tearing it up right now, and are in danger of breaking one of the most untouchable records in NBA basketball. Yes, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, and the rest of the hallowed 71-72 Lakers might finally witness their 41 year old record broken. The Heat are 11 games and only 4 playoff opponents away from doing so, and the nation's eyes rest on every single matchup.

But I'm here to tell you that that's not nearly the most exciting thing going on in basketball right now. And no, I'm not talking about March Madness. The drama on the Heat's season, aside from the record, is totally gone. They've all but locked up the 1 seed in the East, and can basically coast to the finish line as the season concludes. But, out West, a young team named the Oklahoma City Thunder finally looks to prove their worth. Their old foes, the Denver Nuggets, are back and better than ever. They're sporting a 12 game win streak of their own, having smashed some of the leagues fiercest opponents. The most intimidating thing? The Nuggets beat the Thunder earlier in the month, would hold the series advantage should they win today, and are merely 4.5 games behind them in the standings.

In other words, a loss for the Thunder here could lose them the division.

Right now, the Thunder are a team that's lived on past success for too long. Earlier in the season, they had a long win streak of their own and were playing like the team everyone thought they couldn't be. They were well atop the Western Conference, and no specific opponent seemed unbeatable. The name James Harden had finally started to separate itself from the echoes in their minds.

Fast forward today, and we see a much different team. Some new face have joined, but Scott Brooks just can't seem to find the rock-solid rotation he's relied upon in year's past. Every time the bench seems to overcome a problem, they create a new one. They cream inferior opponents like nobody's business, and generally beat the teams that they need to beat. But they haven't had a marquee win in a long time. They lost control against San Antonio last week, and they weren't able to produce in the clutch against Denver.

I know complaining about two losses in a otherwise perfect month might seem trivial, but when you look at how close some of the wins were, it's not that way. The Clippers nearly came back on two corner threes via offensive rebounds. The Thunder needed three straight defensive stops to beat the Knicks, who were playing without Carmelo Anthony. Orlando was a stone's throw from completing a 27 point comeback last Friday.

It's hard pointing to one overarching reason for all of the losses, but if you have to look at it in such general terms, all trains of thought come back to the bench. Sure, there's other problems. Our ball handlers turn over the ball a lot. Sometimes our rebounding falters. We switch and pressure way too much on D. But the bench problem comes up again and again, and it's not just Derek Fisher. Kevin Martin is about as consistent as a public park water fountain, and is a shadow of what he was in November and December. Reggie Jackson has improved a lot, but it's hard finding him minutes, so he often gets misplaced as a two guard. There's still no backup center. The list goes on.

A win tonight wouldn't mean the end of all of those problems, but it would be a large step towards regaining prominence. How do the Thunder accomplish that? Well, turnovers were the name of the game in their one blowout win of the series, coming back on January 16th. But I doubt the Thunder could replicate that result based on that advantage alone, since they shot the ball so well from the field.

Aside from the obvious need to perform in the clutch and avoid bench breakdowns, the name of the game will be consistent offense. It's pretty hard to beat the Nuggets in a game of ball-control, and it's extremely rare that they get shut down. Keep in mind, this team is the league's third highest scoring, and they're the leagues fourth best shooting team. If the shots aren't falling on the Thunder's side of things, they'll need to find ways to get to the line and rely on their peripheral players to produce when it matters most. If Thabo Sefolosha can hit what's basically a game-winning shot against Dallas, he can surely pop in a few jumpers during the third.

Anyway, the result of any Thunder-Nuggets game is usually up to who's got the most guts. And I'd say the Thunder have a lot of those right now, winning a lot of close games and staving off some tremendous comebacks. Barring any sort of bench meltdown, I'm predicting a Thunder victory. But I've been wrong before.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 110, Denver Nuggets 108.

If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.