Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder (51-18) vs Denver Nuggets (32-38) preview

Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (51-18), Denver Nuggets (32-38)

Last time they met: Denver Nuggets (101) defeated Oklahoma City Thunder (88)

Pre-game Notes:

The key question will be around whether or not Russell Westbrook plays after an injury scare to his surgically repaired knee against the Toronto Raptors in the Thunder’s last hit out. While he walked unaided and mentioned that he was “pain free and didn’t expect to miss time” the decision is out of Westbrook’s hands and will probably come close to tip off. Either way, this is still an intriguing game with two teams that have found some form in recent weeks.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have reeled off three wins in a row, while the Denver Nuggets have taken the points in five of their last seven including a narrow win over the resurgent Washington Wizards. The Nuggets are having a terrible run with injuries and have recently lost their leading rebounder JJ Hickson for the rest of the season. Kenneth Faried had his best game in awhile against the Wizards and will be asked to shoulder a lot of the load in this one.

Another key game for both Western Conference sides. The Thunder are trailing the Spurs by two games for the top spot in the conference while the Nuggets are aiming at finishing the year strongly and taking a .500 record for the year.

Key Matchups:

Kevin Durant vs Wilson Chandler

Durant’s latest heroics against the Toronto Raptors might have sealed the MVP award for him, but it will mean little if the Thunder can’t keep winning and go very deep into the playoffs. He averages over 30ppg against the Nuggets and will be looking to eclipse that mark again in order to get the Thunder a win. Wilson Chandler will be the best person to guard the scoring leader but he has been out of the lineup with a hip / groin injury and his status is uncertain. If they haven’t got Chandler, it is hard to see anyone else slowing Durant and the Nuggets could be in trouble.

Russell Westbrook (or Reggie Jackson) vs Ty Lawson

All eyes will be on this matchup – especially if Russ plays but even if he doesn’t, people will tune in to see what Reggie Jackson can keep offering the Thunder, especially against one of the leagues best (and most underrated) point guards. Lawson would have been in All Star talks had the Nuggets have won more games but it wasn’t to be. The talent is undeniable though and he makes every opposing point guard work hard for every possession on both sides of the ball. Westbrook or no Westbrook, there is enough talent at the point guard position on both sides to be a key to this game.

Serge Ibaka vs Kenneth Faried

Two athletic shot blocking forwards with athleticism and energy – this is the most exciting match up of the night. Faried is coming off one of his best games while Serge has improved so much this season, he is an integral option in the Thunder offense. Both guys will be protecting the rim from the penetrating driving games of the point guards and whoever does it best might determine the outcome. Ibaka will also need to make sure his jump shot is working in order to keep the defenders honest and not allow them to help on Durant.

Prediction:

The Oklahoma City Thunder should be able to come away with a win in this one. Playing at home has always been kind to the Thunder and the Nuggets are not the best road team in the league. Kevin Durant is red hot and can’t be contained and if Russ plays, that just makes the job even harder for the short handed Nuggets who have been dealt some cruel injury blows this season. Barring an upset, the Thunder should remain in touch with the Spurs and score themselves win #52.Thunder 108, Nuggets 89.

Tags: Denver Nuggets Oklahoma City Thunder

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