Game: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Denver Nuggets
Time: 9:30PM CST
Location: Pepsi Center, Denver
Counterpart: Denver Stiffs
The Oklahoma City Thunder head north to Denver tonight to face the West’s 2nd seeded team in the Nuggets. Denver is currently 3 games ahead of the Thunder in the overall standings as well as up 2-0 head to head, which not only means the Nuggets have the mental edge, but the potential tie-breaker in the standings as well.
Denver is coming off two impressive wins since getting back from All-Star break, but as of late have struggled defensively, with losses to the Pistons and Nets. Meanwhile, OKC had one of the more demanding 36 hour turnarounds in the NBA this season, running to a double-OT against the Jazz and then falling at the horn to the Kings less than 20 hours later.
To be charitable, the Thunder have not played well this season against Denver, and of course the Nuggets have a lot to do with that. It is possible that those first two games, played much earlier in the season, were before OKC started to figure things out on the offensive end, but now it is the defensive side of the ball that is creating the most concern. OKC’s base pick and roll defense has been shown to falter in 2019, and with Denver running essentially an inverted PnR game with Nikola Jokic running things out of a quasi-HORNS set, defensive communication and attention will be all the more important.
The Thunder have shown they can make things right defensively when the challenge calls for it, as they did against Milwaukee, but far too often they expect their base defense to slow the other teams down without trying to intentionally take anything away. That is a recipe for getting beat by the very-deep Nuggets who thrive on finding open threes and cutting guards.
While I want to like the Thunder’s chances, and I think they will be motivated, they have not yet shown me that they can play well against this Nuggets squad for more than a quarter at a time. And with Monte Morris and Malik Beasley leading the bench charge, OKC’s ineffectual 2nd unit and Dennis Schroder’s current shooting woes will be all the more magnified.
It’s time for OKC to make a statement, but what statement will it be?
Who do you think will win tonight?
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