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2013-2014 Game 36 Preview: Thunder Look to Dominate Pesky Nuggets

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The Thunder are a mile high and fresh off an embarrassing loss to the Jazz. Can they get it together against the Nuggets?

KD knows there's gold in them hills.
KD knows there's gold in them hills.
William Bennett Berry
2013-2014 NBA Season
Lost 1

Won 3
January 9th, 2014
The Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
9:30 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Turner Network Television Only
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), KKFN AM 950 The Fan
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Andre Miller (Not With Team), Danilo Gallinari (Out), JaVale McGee (Out)
Previous Matchups: Nov 18th, Dec 17th (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-0)
Probable Starters
Reggie Jackson 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
98.9 (5th) Pace 98.7 (6th)
107.0 (5th) ORtg 103.7 (T-11th)
98.2 (3rd) DRtg 102.8 (16th)

The Thunder's previous two games against the Nuggets are great displays of offensive brilliance, if you're from Oklahoma City. The early season matchup brought us the debut of the three point guard lineup that mounted an epic fourth quarter comeback, which was itself a sign of what was to come. The next matchup brought us the best of the two-horse Durant and Westbrook show, as they trotted triumphantly over the Nuggets inadequate defense.

In today's world, those matchups seem like distant memories. You've got the obvious problems, like Westbrook's injury, the team's terrible performance in the wake of Serge Ibaka's flu, and the long periods of offensive draught. But there's also just a general feeling that the team is, creatively, hitting a brick wall. They've pulled out some victories, but few have come easily, and they're putting a ton of responsibility on Durant. The offense is getting stale and predictable, while the speed that once came easily is now rare and precious.

The Thunder have had mid-season slumps before, and obviously, all would be fixed with a Westbrook return. But this game is going to be one of a few very telling games that come ahead. Over the course of these next few contests, Scott Brooks is going to have to decide whether the team becomes built around KD, or whether the team gets built around getting strong scoring from Lamb and Jackson. The latter two present the more desirable option for KD's long-term health, but they have struggled when leaned upon. Leaning on KD would give the team a clear purpose and perhaps win them more games in the short-term, but it puts a lot of miles on the team's most precious commodity.

Regardless of which path the Thunder take, Ibaka's return should solve a ton of problems. His consistently efficient production is something that's always missed, and his tenacious defense near the rim will do wonders. The Thunder put on an atrocious defensive performance on Tuesday night against the Jazz, and Ibaka's absence was blamed for the mishap. It should be noted, however, that even if Ibaka were there, he would have likely done little to stop the poor weak-side defense that the Thunder were executing on the perimeter. In that area, it's apparent where Westbrook's loss hurts us most. Other teams still get open shots, but his ability to steal and intimidate goes miles towards winning the ball back in good position.

It's not likely that the Nuggets will be killing the Thunder with ball movement, though. Their ball movement is good, and they rarely succumb to the turnover bug, but their perimeter shooting against the Thunder in the past has been pretty average. It was Denver's ability to get to the line that served them well in both matchups, sending Thunder players into foul trouble. So it's likely that they'll be attacking the rim with the same ferocity, hoping that they can find a weakness.

Another likely factor is Ty Lawson. He's gained a bit of a reputation as a Thunder killer, posting quality stats in recent matchups and performing especially well in the fourth quarter. Now that he's going against Reggie Jackson, he might see a real opportunity to exceed his past accomplishments, both offensively and defensively. How well Jackson fares could very easily determine the outcome of this game.

Anyway, let's just hope that tonight's game is better than the one on Tuesday. I'm predicting a Denver victory but I'm still cranky.

Prediction: Denver Nuggets 109, Oklahoma City Thunder 103.

What do you think will transpire tonight? Let us know in the poll and comments!

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