It is becoming abundantly clear that the Denver Nuggets first round matchup will be their division rivals Oklahoma City Thunder. And there is a debate in the media who would win in a seven-game series.
And while local media believes the Nuggets can pull off a first round upset, mainstream media believes that the advantage goes to Oklahoma City.
So far this season Denver have played as well as anybody against the Thunder and split the first two games of the season series. But the two squads haven’t faced each other since the Feb. 21 trade and face off twice in the final two games (April 5 and 8), once in Denver and once in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder are a tricky team, and in many ways are a lot like the Nuggets – but maybe even more talented and while Denver is 11-4 since the trade; Oklahoma City has gone 11-5 over the same span.
Two of their top player are MVP-candidates, Kevin Durant (27.9 points, 7 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (22.2 points, 8.3 assists). Add in the always dangerous sixth man James Harden (11.9 points), young and talented big man Serge Ibaka (9.4 points, 7.6 rebounds) and newly acquired Kendrick Perkins (7.6 rebounds) and this Thunder team is dangerous.
The Nuggets counter with the duo of Wilson Chandler (13.9 points, 5.5 rebounds since the trade) and Ty Lawson (15.9 points, 8 assists). As well as six other players that are averaging double-figure points, Danilo Gallinari (15.7 points), Nene (15 points, 7.6 rebounds), Arron Afflalo (12.6 points), JR Smith (12.1), Al Harrington (10.8) and Raymond Felton (10.8 and 7.6 assists). Kenyon Martin (7.7, 6 rebounds) and Chris Andersen (5, 4.5) are also in the rotation.
In the past, the Nuggets were able to play a Diamond-and-1-type defense to limit Durant’s touches and points he scores, but with the emergence of Westbrook the Nuggets haven’t had the same success. In the two games versus Denver, Durant has averaged 33 points and has shot .526 from the field.
And while the Nuggets have been a more dangerous team since the trade, they may not matchup as well with the Thunder as they did before.
With the past regime, the Nuggets were more of a threat in the halfcourt offense and were able to slow the game down against the Thunder. But now the Nuggets play a more similar pace as the Thunder, and Oklahoma City thrives in a quick pace style of play.
The Thunder also do an admirable job countering the Nuggets strengths. They are long, athletic and quicker than most of the teams Denver has faced recently. The length and athleticism of Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha should cause havoc with Lawson and Felton. JR Smith has struggled against the Thunder this season, scoring a combined 14 points on 2-10 shooting and while Nene has been fairly successful (18.5 points, 9 rebounds), the addition of Perkins may slow Nene down.
Denver counters with its versatility on both sides of the ball. Chandler, Martin and Afflalo can each guard the perimeter, as well as the post and will spend the majority of the time defending Westbrook, Harden and Durant.
Offensively, Denver has nine players that on any given night can score at least 10 points. And since the trade, seven different players have scored more than 20 points – including two that went for more than 30.
The bottom line is that it is tough to predict the outcome of a seven-game playoff series and the majority of the time the best team wins. The only thing Nuggets fans can do is sit back and watch their squad play together and get excited for a fun playoff series.
Tags: Al Harrington Arron Afflalo Birdman Carmelo Anthony Chris Andersen Danilo Gallinari Denver Nuggets George Karl J.R. Smith JR Smith Kendrick Perkins Kenyon Martin Kevin Durant Nene Raymond Felton Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka Thabo Sefolosha Ty Lawson Wilson Chandler