In emphatic fashion on Thursday night, the Nuggets climbed back above .500 for the first time since the team’s loss to New Orleans on December 27. At home against the #3 seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, the Nuggets took off to an early lead and never let up off the gas pedal. They ended up winning 101-88, in what was surely one of the most refreshing, morale-boosting games of the season so far.
Just a few weeks ago, the Nuggets were in the midst of a downward spiral that started with a blow-out loss at home to the Thunder. Now, after recovering from an 8-game losing streak with four consecutive wins, things seem much brighter for the Nuggets.
While the Nuggets are certainly not known for their defense as they rank 21st in the league in points allowed per game with an average of 101.4 points allowed, they put together a solid defensive performance and managed to keep Kevin Durant somewhat in check. Though, to be fair, the Thunder clearly are not the same team without Russell Westbrook, as Durant simply cannot be the only one on the team scoring all of the points. Coming off of two 48-point performances in three games, Durant wasn’t able to replicate against the Nuggets although he still ended with a game-high 30 points on Thursday. Whether or not the Thunder’s lack of offensive firepower outside of Durant is to blame, it was good to see the Nuggets hold a contender like the Thunder to under 90 points.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Nuggets continue to be firing on all cylinders during this four-game winning streak. The most encouraging part of Thursday’s game was the performance from guard Evan Fournier, who looks like an entirely different player after the role-defining conversation the team had together after the embarrassing loss to the 76ers at home last week. Fournier finished the game with 19 points and played with the most aggression and confidence I’ve ever seen from him. Shaw must have said something Fournier liked last week, as he’s playing on an entirely different level than he was earlier this season. With the third best point differential in the game of +11 on Thursday, the Nuggets need to see more performances like this one from Fournier this season.
Ty Lawson continued to do Ty Lawson things with 16 points, 14 assists, 7 rebounds and a game-high +16 point differential. Lawson again showed that this team really does rise and fall with his play, so let’s hope he can manage to be consistent throughout this season. Shooting guard Randy Foye also impressed in this game after enduring a shooting slump during the Nuggets 8-game losing streak. He’s set season highs for scoring in his last two games, finishing with 24 on Thursday night and coming up with a few surprisingly good defensive plays on Durant in the first half as well.
In the absence of the oft-injured Wilson Chandler, Quincy Miller put together a decent performance. Although he looked a little shaky and lost at times while also getting torched by Durant on defense, he showed promise, hustle, and even put down a Mailman-dunk in transition during the 3rd quarter.
If the Nuggets can continue to give persistent effort on defense and play with the confidence they’ve been showing over the last few games, they should be in good shape to do some damage in the Western Conference, especially once Danilo Gallinari and Javale McGee return to the lineup.