Tonight, the limping Oklahoma City Thunder host a comparably downtrodden Denver Nuggets squad.
Each Northwest Division denizen has struggled to ring in the new year. Oklahoma City has lost three straight, while Denver's winless spell sits at four games.
When the teams last met Nov. 25, Oklahoma City carried an identical three-game losing streak. Though, on that night, OKC edged the Nuggets to begin one of the NBA’s revered seven-game marches.
The Thunder's 132-129 victory over Mike Malone's crew ignited Russell Westbrook's streak of seven-consecutive triple-doubles. Atop the Mile-High city, Westbrook amassed 36 points, 17 assists, and 11 rebounds. More importantly, the five-time All-Star dropped 19 fourth-quarter points to secure victory for his teetering unit.
In a losing effort, Wilson Chandler (32 points, 11 rebounds), Jameer Nelson (21), and Jamal Murray (20) brought Denver to the precipice of success before falling just short.
This evening’s contest should be a similarly competitive affair.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Throughout a fruitless road endeavor, Oklahoma City remained in the thick of competitive battle. Unfortunately, amid this stretch Westbrook’s usually stalwart fourth-quarter efforts suffered a precipitous downturn.
Overall, Westbrook shot a meager 8-27 FGA in his past three fourth quarter offerings. As a result, OKC thrice suffered defeat by a slim 5-point average.
The Thunder is almost totally reliant upon its leader’s crunch-time production. Case in point: Westbrook has presented 9.7 ppg, and 46.3FG% in the final period during 18 of OKC’s 21 wins.
As stated, the eighth-year guard dominated an offensively efficient Nuggets iteration amidst a memorable Nov. 25 fourth-quarter comeback.
To assure a repeat outcome, Oklahoma City will likely need a late Westbrook performance on par with his usual output.
Beset by injuries to key contributors, Denver has stumbled hard along its recent path. Thursday, the Nuggets were blown out by the visiting San Antonio Spurs, 127-99.
San Antonio’s starting front-line overpowered the Nuggets, scoring 69 points on 27-of-45 FGA.
Additionally, Emmanuel Mudiay was thoroughly outperformed by 34-year-old Tony Parker. Mudiay, 20, was limited to 8 pts and 0-3 3FG as Parker showcased a vintage line of 21 pts, 9 asts, and 10-of-11 FGA.
Mudiay’s previous outing notwithstanding, opposite OKC, Denver’s precocious point guard must claim redemption via a creditable showing against the ceaseless attack of Russell Westbrook.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Build and sustain early momentum
- Westbrook plays under control/performs well in fourth quarter
- Interior defense/rebounding
INJURY REPORTS/PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
For the Denver Nuggets both Kenneth Faried (Back) and Nikola Jokic (Illness) are listed as questionable. Darrell Arthur (knee) is listed as probable. For the Oklahoma City Thunder there are no injuries to report. It is rumored that Cameron Payne will return to the Thunder tonight following a successful stint with the OKC Blue.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: Emmanuel Mudiay
- Shooting Guard: Gary Harris
- Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari
- Power Forward: Darrell Arthur/Wilson Chandler
- Center: Jusuf Nurkic/Nikola Jokic
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER -7.5
Both the Vegas bookmakers and our partners at numberFire see the Oklahoma City Thunder as prohibitive favorites vs. the slumping Denver Nuggets. While OKC hasn’t fared well of late either, a combination of Denver injuries, home-court advantage, and a prior win vs. the Nuggets all tilt the scale in Oklahoma City’s direction.
Tonight’s key matchup will be Russell Westbrook vs. the combination of Emmanuel Mudiay and Jameer Nelson. The veteran Nelson is arguably outperforming Mudiay at this point of the season. Each of Denver’s floor generals will need strong outings to counterbalance the dynamic Westbrook.
Meanwhile, Westbrook must find shot-making consistency —especially in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma City sports a 13-6 home record. The Denver Nuggets are 7-11 on the road.