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Thunder vs Nuggets Preview: Denver unlikely to extinguish OKC’s firepower.

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Lots of intriguing questions surround both teams, but who is favored is no mystery.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder

OKC’s 2015-16 season has opened up about as exhausting as 2014-15 did, with two key differences: the team is winning, and the stars aren’t in walking boots and casts. After an impressive first showing against the Spurs, the Thunder were outperformed by the upstart Magic for 3 quarters, looking like they had recovered their terrible defensive form just in time for a team they should beat. Then the team went bonkers, as they do, and overpowered the gritty Orlando squad.

The Thunder have never been graceful, and so far the big talk of Billy Donavan’s smoother offensive system making things prettier is looking like just that: talk. When the sets aren’t producing immediately, the players—Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the biggest culprits—revert to iso-heavy hero ball. Turns out they can pull it off, but we’ve known that for a few years. We also knew they could come back against worse teams like the Magic. What we don’t know is whether the tornado of roster and coaching changes over the last year will turn the league’s most talented team into the most effective unit. We’re just two games in, but that’s still an open question. OKC ranks near the bottom of the league in both assist ratio (13.2) and defensive rating (104.6 points per 100 possessions), calling cards of the explosive but talented Thunder as we’ve known them pre-Donavan.

Where They At: Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have had their own storm of roster and coaching changes since the Thunder last played them, but they’re at a very different point with team expectations. Mike Malone is trying to prove a defense-first coaching style can match the Denver altitude better than the run-and-gun schemes they’ve traditionally employed. The Nuggets are looking at beyond Danilo Gallinari’s recovery and to his development into a potential star forward, and there are rumblings that they are evaluating whether Kenneth Faried is truly a long-term piece or more of a trade chip.

The team has defied logic thus far, winning a shocking blowout over Houston before losing in surprising blowout to Minnesota.

The Matchup

The Thunder handled Denver in both matchups last season. This time around, the Nuggets are featuring a very raw, lanky Emmanuel Mudiay in place of the polished, compact Ty Lawson. Westbrook loves to feast on young guards, so that matchup bears watching. The team is also playing great defense early in the season, but their offense has been abysmal. I could see Gallinari and a random guard (Will Barton, maybe Randy Foye) going off, but even accounting for that all factors point to an easy W for Oklahoma City.

Prediction: Thunder 121 Nuggets 105

2014-15 NBA Season Game
(Lost 1)

(Won 2)
November 1st, 2015
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City
6 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, Altitude, NBA League Pass
Injury Report: Jusuf Nurkic (Out), Wilson Chandler (Out)
This Season's Matchups: N/A
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Emmanuel Mudiay
Andre Roberson SG Gary Harris
Kevin Durant SF Danilo Gallinari
Serge Ibaka PF Kenneth Faried
Steven Adams C Joffrey Lauvergne