The Thunder couldn't come into tonight on a more positive note. They're fresh off of a 131-108 drubbing of the Clippers yesterday, and rookie Mitch McGary stole the show. McGary managed to grab 19 points on 8-9 shooting in only his third career game.
Ordinarily, I would have guessed that, despite his good performance, McGary would be spending time riding the pine tonight. Sunday's game was a special case, as a 1 game suspension for Kendrick Perkins opened up some minutes on the bench. McGary did do an excellent job of scoring, but had a favorable matchup against Big Baby. Furthermore, Mitch struggled to defend at the rim. Unfortunately, it appears McGary will be forced into premature duty. During Sunday's game, Steven Adams broke his right wrist. It required surgery, and will leave Funaki out until early March. That leaves nine games for McGary to show his stuff on the bench with Nick Collison.
Other than McGary's explosion, another big story from Sunday's game was the emergence of Waiters and Jackson as partners. The bench duo didn't work together very much on offense when Waiters first arrived. But they've seemed to slowly get more comfortable with one another as time has progressed, and the Clipper game marks the first time that you can say they both succeeded together. Previously, either both would fail or one would succeed in spite of the other. Hopefully, a weaker and slightly unmotivated Nugget defense will allow Waiters and Jackson to get deep and score.
Luckily for OKC, the rest of the win was pretty run of the mill. The Clippers were without Griffin, and would lose Big Baby to injury before the half. This resulted in a serious lack of interior D that the Thunder were able to take advantage of. Durant practically cruised as if he was given a brand new toe, while Westbrook couldn't his shot going until the third. Still, the duo was always effective, and got to shut it down by the end of the third quarter. Ibaka struggled a bit with his shot, but still managed to do damage at the rim and on D.
Tonight, the Thunder do face a few things stacked against their favor. Denver's arena is a mile high and in thin air. Denver's in a different time zone, so the Thunder will have minor jet lag. Lastly, OKC actually lost to Denver the last time these two teams met. Still, that loss was on November 19th, with Durant and Westbrook out due to injury. Jeremy Lamb got major minutes, as did Sebastian Telfair, Lance Thomas, and Timofey Mozgov. The only thing that you can really take from that loss into this game is the threat of Denver's well orchestrated offense. The Nuggets will only win when they move the ball extremely well and attack the basket. In addition, Denver generally has to either get to the line a lot or get hot from three. Denver wasn't hot from three when they faced OKC in November, but the Thunder were so terrible offensively back then that it didn't matter.
But make no mistake, Denver is an offense-first team. The Nuggets are going to crash the offensive glass all the time (4th in the NBA in offensive rebounds), as well as stay at home on their shooters. This pretty much spells doom against the Thunder, whom love to get out in transition and attack the basket. Brian Shaw may have a few desperate tricks up his sleeve, though. Many believe Shaw is on the brink of losing his job, though Nugget management has remained behind him thus far. Shaw is 1-12 over his last 13, and holds the dubious distinction of being the first coach to make the Nuggets miss the playoffs since 2003.
Many on Denver's end are calling for the team to clean house. There's a great piece by Andrew Feinstein over at Denver Stiffs that hearkens back to the 2002-2003 Nuggets, and how they successfully blew their bad team up. The trade deadline is right around the corner, so this is the last time we might get to see this edition of the Denver Nuggets. By the time the Thunder see the Nuggets again on February 22nd, they might be totally different. Who knows? It's entirely possible that the Thunder and Nuggets may swap players. Waiters and Jackson are young players to build around, while the Nuggets feature a bunch of cheap veteran wings that could be rented for a playoff push. No official rumblings as of yet, but you have to think that Thunder GM Sam Presti and Nugget GM Tim Connelly have at least talked.
The matchup to watch will be Russell Westbrook vs. Ty Lawson. Historically, the bigger Westbrook has had the upper hand against the smaller Lawson, running over Lawson offensively and keeping Lawson from the rim defensively. But 2013 was Lawson's year, as he shot over 50% against Westbrook in three straight matchups. Despite Lawson's efficient line, Westbrook was still thoroughly superior in most aspects of the game. Russ even registered a triple double on December 17th, 2013. Strangely enough, the two haven't faced off in over a year, so it will be exciting to see how each of them has evolved. Both tend to carry their offenses, so how well each one does will be a good barometer for the entire team.
Another matchup to watch will be Kenneth Faried vs. Serge Ibaka. Both of them do the majority of their work off the ball, and Ibaka has proven himself as the better player over the season's first two matchups. Faried simply doesn't have the range that Ibaka does, and they both tend to match each other's athleticism. Still, Ibaka has been developing his face-up post game, so it will be interesting to see whether he can continue to take that to the next level.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 113, Denver Nuggets 100.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!
|2014-15 NBA Season Game 52|
|February 9th, 2015|
|The Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado|
|8:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain Plus|
|Injury Report: JaVale McGee (Probable), Anthony Morrow, Jameer Nelson (Questionable), Steven Adams (Out)|
|This Season's Matchups: Nov 1 (W 102-91), Nov 19 (L 100-107)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Ty Lawson|
|Andre Roberson||SG||Aaron Afflalo|
|Dion Waiters||SF||Wilson Chandler|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Kenneth Faried|
|Kendrick Perkins||C||Jusuf Nurkic|
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