Thunder (1-game winning streak)
105.7 Offensive Efficiency (2nd)
99.0 Defensive Efficiency (14th)
96.1 Pace (4th)
Nuggets (2-game losing streak)
104.6 Offensive Efficiency (4th)
100.9 Defensive Efficiency (17th)
97.7 Pace (1st)
This is the first time Oklahoma City will play Denver this year. The two teams met in the first round of the playoffs last season in a series that Oklahoma City took 4-1. Kevin Durant was impossible for the Nuggets to cover in that series as he averaged 32.4 points per game including two 41-point games. This season the Nuggets started off hot but have lost nine of their last 12 games. They still are one of the best teams by the stats in the NBA but clinging to a playoff spot in the West.
Thunder keys to the game
1. Points in the paint
The Denver Nuggets are the best team in the NBA at scoring in the paint and lead the NBA in taking shots at the rim attempting 33.0 per game, 5.3 more than the second team. Denver does this by spreading the floor well and penetrating with their point guards Ty Lawson and Andre Miller. It is unsure if Kendrick Perkins will return to the lineup yet tonight so the burden of protecting the paint will lie largely with Serge Ibaka, who is leading the NBA in blocks per game this season. Expect the Thunder to go small a lot in this game and if they do with Nick Collison playing center, the Nuggets may be able to take advantage and get into the paint a lot.
2. Free throws
The Nuggets and Thunder are the two best teams in the league at getting to the line. This is the case for the Thunder because of their star power with Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Denver gets to the line because you never know who is going to be shooting for them. The team that shoots the most free throws in this game will surely have the advantage since both rely so heavily on getting to the line. Durant averaged over double-digit free throw attempts against the Nuggets in their playoff series last year so should have no trouble doing the same tonight.
Both teams are also two of the best at scoring on the break this year. Oklahoma City has really turned up their transition game lately as their defensive rebounding has been improving. Sometimes transition production is a result of which way the basketball bounces so whichever team is getting the most opportunities on the break should be the one leading on the scoreboard. The Thunder are going to need to play sound defense and have good positioning to rebound against the Nuggets so that they can get out and run.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 108-100.