Barring anything unforeseen, the Denver Nuggets
are going to meet Oklahoma City
in a first-round Western Conference playoff matchup with the Thunder holding home-court advantage.
So, on the surface, it would seem Friday night’s 5:05 PT game between the visiting Nuggets and Thunder holds little significance.
That’s on the surface. The game actually means something to both teams.
The fourth-seeded Thunder are chasing Dallas for the No. 3 seed just one game behind the reeling Mavericks and holding the tiebreaker.
Denver has much to prove from a confidence factor after the Thunder beat the Nuggets, 101-94, as 4 ½-point road ‘dogs this past Tuesday. Oklahoma City had lost by an average of 19.3 points per game during its past seven trips to Pepsi Center.
The Nuggets were unable to corral NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant, who scored 32 points despite being double and even tripled-teamed at times.
Duran then poured in 29 points, Russell Westbrook scored 26 points and center Kendrick Perkins pulled down a season-high 17 rebounds as the Thunder followed that victory up by beating the Los Angeles Clippers, 112-108, as 10-point home favorites this past Wednesday. The combined 220 points sailed ‘over’ the 201-point total.
The win clinched the Northwest Division title and at least the No. 4 playoff seed for the Thunder. The last time the franchise won a division title was in 2005 when they were the Seattle SuperSonics.
Denver bounced back from its home loss to the Thunder to upset the Mavericks, 104-96, on Wednesday as four-point road ‘dogs. It was the 11th time in their last 12 away matchups the Nuggets have covered. The combined 200 points pushed on the 200-point total.
The Nuggets lead the NBA in scoring at 107.1 points per contest. Until defeating the Mavericks, though, the Nuggets had gone three consecutive games without breaking the 100-point barrier.
Since their big trade with the New York Knicks, the Nuggets have gone 16-5, including winning seven of their past eight games. They are 20-7-1 ATS in their past 28 games.
Denver lost Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the Knicks, but team chemistry has improved and its bench has become much stronger. The Nuggets, however, could be down three players versus the Thunder.
Timofey Mozgov, a 7-foot-1 center, is out for about two weeks with a knee and ankle injury. Another of Denver’s big men, Chris “Birdman” Andersen, has missed the last three games due to a sprained ankle and guard Arron Afflalo is sidelined with a hamstring injury.
The Thunder, meanwhile, have turned into the old Nuggets with their style. They feature a great scorer in Durant and savvy point guard in Westbrook along with a physical, intimidating inside game punctuated by Perkins, who easily got the better of Nene in the team’s earlier matchup this week.
It’s Perkins who could give Oklahoma City an added edge. The Thunder have never had the kind of inside toughness Perkins provides. Perkins does a lot of the dirty work that frees up the multi-talented and athletic Durant and Westbrook to do their things.
Oklahoma City held Denver to only eight fast-break points during Tuesday’s victory although Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson scored 28 points.
The Thunder are 29-10 at home. Denver is 17-22 on the road, although 22-16-1 ATS. Oklahoma City is 1-4-1 ATS in its last six home contests.
The ‘under’ is 5-0-1 in Denver’s last six road matchups. In their last 22 games, the Nuggets have gone 16-5-1 to the ‘under.’
The ‘under’ has cashed in 11 of the Thunder’s last 15 games. Oklahoma City is 8-4 ‘under’ in its last 12 home contests.