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Matching Up With The Thunder


As we pointed out earlier, the Oklahoma City Thunder may be one of the few teams in the NBA that can matchup with the Denver Nuggets.

They obviously don’t have the depth to match the Nuggets, but of course who does? However, the Thunder have the talent, athleticism and skills to make any matchup with the Nuggets entertaining.

Two of the hottest teams

The Nuggets have been nearly unstoppable, going 15-4 since the Carmelo Anthony trade, but Oklahoma City isn’t far behind (14-6).

Both have come up with big wins, the Nuggets have beaten the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics at home and have also defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Hornets on the road.

Oklahoma City on the other hand have come up with two big road wins versus the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks.

The Thunder, who are in the midst of a 4-game road trip, dropped their last two games on the trip. Russell Westbrook, who is the ‘Robin’ to Kevin Durant’s ‘Batman’ has struggled in both contests shooting on 6-27 and racking up 11 fouls. If the Nuggets don’t give Westbrook any easy shots expect the former Bruin’s struggles to continue.

And in the past few meetings Westbrook, who is averaging 21.8 points and 8.3 assists, was defended by his former teammate Arron Afflalo, but with nearly entire different lineup and with Afflalo still nursing a hamstring injury, that task falls on Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler. Chandler, who defended Kobe Bryant in the last game and also Tony Parker earlier this season, has the length to give Westbrook problems. However, if Chandler does defend Westbrook it would put Lawson (who is listed at 6-foot) in a tough situation defending the 6-8 Thabo Sefolosha or the 6-5, 220 James Harden.

Stopping KD35

The Nuggets used to throw a Diamond-And-1 type defense at Kevin Durant, but those days are long gone. Especially with the emergence of Westbrook.

Now Denver constantly switches on Durant as he maneuvers his way around the court seeking the ball. And nowthe Nuggets have the length in the frontcourt (Danilo Gallinari listed at 6-10, Wilson Chandler 6-8, Nene 6-11 and Kenyon Martin 6-9) to switch out on Durant.

But that doesn’t mean the Nuggets can stop the wiry-scorer, but they can do their best to contain him. Durant has scored under 20 points only five times this season and only twice have the Thunder lost those games.

Misleading depth

One factor in the Nuggets recent success is their ability to go nine to 10-men deep, but the Thunder are also another team that uses a deeper bench:

  • Kendrick Perkins, who was traded to the Thunder at the trade deadline, gives the Thunder a intimidator in the paint and a little more toughness. Since the trade Perkins has averaged 5.8 points, 7.6 rebounds.
  • Serge Ibaka is a 21-year-old energy spark and has gradually gotten better as the season continues. He is averaging 12.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3 blocks over his last 10 games.
  • Durant: See above
  • Sefolosha may be the lowest scoring starting guard in the NBA at 4.9 points. But his role is similar to Dahntay Jones when he played for the Nuggets. Make life difficult for the opponent to start the game and than go to the bench.
  • Westbrook: See above
  • Nazr Mohammed, who is one of two current players in NBA who have a title at the NBA and college level, gives OKC a potent scoring center off the bench. He has averaged 6.1 points and 4.9 rebounds a contest since being traded to the Thunder.
  • Nick Collison, who is from the Seattle Supersonic days, gives the Thunder minutes is about as scrappy as it gets and is paid to defend and grab rebounds.
  • Harden may be just as dangerous as JR Smith off the bench and could be even better. With a smooth game, thick body and 3-point range it is no wonder Harden has averaged over 16 points a game since March.
  • Eric Maynor gives the Thunder 10 to 15 minutes a game and is a nice facilitator of the offense. He plays good defense and smart offensively.
  • Nate Robinson, who is still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery could also find his way into the rotation.

Statistically Talking

  • Nuggets are No. 1 in scoring (107.3); Thunder are No. 5 (104.4).
  • Nuggets are 3rd in 3-point shooting (.388); Thunder are 18th (.348)
  • Thunder are the No. 1 Free throw shooting team (.823); Nuggets are 11th (.77)
  • Thunder are No. 8 in rebounding differential (+1.8): Nuggets are 12th (+.6)
  • Thunder are fifth in steals (7.9); Nuggets are 12th (7.4).
  • Thunder are No. 2 in blocked shots (5.9); Nuggets are 23rd (4.3)

Matchup To Watch: Russell Westbrook vs. The Nuggets Double Trouble

Westbrook has struggled the last two games and will have his work cut out for him tonight. Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton each give the Nuggets another dimension and as they showed Sunday even if you stop one, the other will step up.

Since the February trade, Lawson has averaged 16.3 points and 7.5 assists and team that up with Felton who has gone for 11.1, 6.4 and they can practically matchup with any point guard.

However, there is a reason why Westbrook was chosen to the All-Star game and he won’t just give the UNC-brothers fits on defense he also will attack them on offense and whoever wins this matchup will win the game.

Former Pupil

Scott Brooks was an assistant coach on George Karl’s staff when he first started in Denver and Brooks actually got his first two wins stepping in two games Karl was suspended. Brooks left the Nuggets in 2007 and was handed the head coaching job in Oklahoma City after PJ Carlesimo was fired and Brooks hasn’t looked back. He was the Coach of the Year last season and no doubt will get wins this season.

Keys To The Contest

  • The Nuggets need to run their offense and not get stagnant and go one-on-one.
  • They need to key on the Thunder three scorers (Durant 27.7, Westbrook 21.8 and Harden 12.2) and make the rest of the team beat you. You can live with Sefolosha shooting the ball.
  • Don’t be intimidated. Like Kenyon Martin, Perkins tries to intimidate opponents with hard fouls and physical play but that shouldn’t deter the Nuggets from attacking the basket and drawing fouls.
  • Don’t get caught up in a running-and-gunning game. You do that with the Thunder and you lose, they are too good on both sides of the ball to win that way.
  • Attack Westbrook and Durant on defense. Best way to stop scorers from beating you is making them work on defense.