An NBA Northwest division battle set up for Sunday Night finds the Denver Nuggets (17-14, 9-7 road) traveling to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (23-7, 11-1 home) with tip-off slated for 8:00 PM ET at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
In the first game between the two teams since the first round of last season’s playoffs, the Denver Nuggets will be trying to overcome a string of recent injuries, as well as a tough run of form due mainly to the ongoing absence of leading scorer Danilo Gallinari (17 ppg, 5.2 rpg). Missing the last six games, Denver has gone 2-4 without Gallinari in the line-up, and the string of injuries unfortunately doesn’t stop there for the Nuggets. Ahead of tonight’s contest at Oklahoma City, where the Thunder are playing their best basketball in an already impressive season, it appears as though both top rebounder Nene (13.4 ppg, 7.8) and back-up center Timofey Mozgov (5.5. ppg, 4.5 rpg) will miss their 4th and 5th games respectively. This presents a serious problem in and around the paint for Denver, who will be shorthanded against a Thunder team that loves to drive at the basket, and has been extremely efficient at snatching up rebounds, ranking 4th in the league with 43.5 boards per contest. While the Nuggets have been able to hold their own this year against high-scoring, fast-paced teams with their own blistering pace (averaging 103.4 points/game), and they’ve seen players like rookie forward Kenneth Faried (7.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) step up to fill the void caused by injuries, their defensive form has been the biggest area affected by the loss of Nene, Gallinari and Mozgov, as during the past 5 games they’ve allowed an average of 103 points to opposing offenses. Defense must be improved upon for Denver tonight if they are to stand any chance at hanging in the ballgame against Oklahoma City, but their reliance on the less experienced pair of 22 year-olds including Faried and Kosta Koufos (4.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg) leaves them exposed in the middle and in trouble of giving up a lot of points once more.
The Thunder do have injury concerns heading into tonight as Kendrick Perkins (4.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) may miss a second straight game due to an injured knee, and OKC will still be without Thabo Sefolosha (5.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg) who continues on a long injury stint. While point guard Russell Westbrook (22.6 ppg, 5.4 apg, 4.9 rpg) also looked in danger of missing tonight’s game, to the Nuggets’ dismay it appears his ankle sprain on Friday night wasn’t serious and he’s expected to start at home this evening. The good thing for the Nuggets in this match-up tonight considering their losses in the middle is that Oklahoma City doesn’t rely on its big men to generate points night in and night out, and won’t likely have lots of scoring down low this evening. Between Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, their total contribution to the scoring line is just 17.2 points per game. The bad news for Denver is that Oklahoma City does the majority of its damage via its physical and aggressive perimeter game. With Kevin Durant (26.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg) leading the scoring attack and able to shoot from outside as well as penetrate into the lanes (he’s hitting a ridiculous 50.8 percent of his shots), Russell Westbrook setting the pace of the game and able to outmatch any defensive assignment put on him, and Sixth Man of the Year candidate James Harden (17.0 ppg, 3.5 apg, 4.1 rpg) playing some of his best basketball of the season right now, the Thunder get a whopping 66.4 points per game from these three players. Without stopping or at least slowing down one or more of these three top scorers tonight, Denver won’t even have to worry about missing their inside big men, as the game will be won by the Thunder outside the paint.
For Denver then, tonight’s outcome hinges to how well a couple of key players produce on defense. Firstly, Ty Lawson (15.4 ppg, 6.3 apg) must be on point against Russell Westbrook, and unenviable task for even the best defenders. Secondly Corey Brewer (9.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg), filling in for Danilo Gallinari at the shooting forward position, has to slow down Kevin Durant’s movement towards the basket and try to limit him to tougher jump shots away from the bucket. Brewer comes off his best effort of the season on offense with 26 points on 10-14 shooting, and Denver could certainly use a similar performance tonight, but if he isn’t able to stay in front of Durant on defense, all his points won’t compare to the damage done by OKC’s leading scorer. Lastly, Arron Afflalo (11.4 ppg) needs to have a better game on both sides of the ball as he’ll likely get James Harden as a defensive assignment for most the game. Afflalo has scored 8 and 3 points in his last two games, and against Harden who seems to get better in each game, he needs to up his production and also prevent the Thunder’s leading bench scorer from having another exceptional shooting night. If Oklahoma City is allowed to put up the same type of points that Denver has been giving up on defense during their run of 7 losses in 9 games, no amount of offense the Nuggets can muster will compare to what OKC can put up against them.
Betting Lines for Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets at TopBet Sportsbook
On the money line for tonight’s match-up, Oklahoma City comes in as a heavy favorite for straight up wagers, with -450 odds to win. Winning 7 of their last 10 games versus Denver’s 7 losses in 10 games, it’s certainly no shock to see the injury depleted Nuggets as hefty underdogs for this match-up, with +350 odds to win straight up on the road against an 11-1 home team in the Thunder.
Against the spread however, sports betting fans may have the best shot at backing Denver, even despite their recent woes. The Nuggets are a 8.5 point underdog, and while they are missing key components, they may have success scoring against a Thunder defense that allows 95.7 points per game. While Denver has been giving up massive amounts of points, tonight’s contest is a pivotal one for the Nuggets, and they’ve shown in the past that they can hang with OKC under any circumstance (in the 5 games during last years’ playoffs between these two teams, 4 games were decided by 5 points or less). That said, with OKC having an advantage with Denver missing 2 of its top players, and recording two recent home wins by more than 20 points, that trend could easily continue tonight especially if Denver doesn’t have a defensive answer for the Thunder’s leading scorers.
On the total points line, the over/under stands at a hefty 209.5 points. Even though this may be one of the highest over/under lines you’ll see during the NBA season, in a game that should be one of the fastest-paced showdowns on the year, there’s a good chance that the points total will be within just a few points of that mark tonight. However, with OKC holding visitors to under 94 points at home in their last six games, even while the Thunder are likely to score at will tonight, expect Denver’s lower offensive production to hold the total points to the underside.
Our Pick to Win:
Denver would be a very interesting pick to win this match-up outright in a high-scoring battle, provided they had a healthy Danilo Gallinari and Nene for tonight’s clash. Well, they don’t. Relying on youth and inexperience in the middle, and getting a tough challenge around the perimeter on defense from the Thunder’s top three scorers, the Nuggets simply won’t be able to keep pace with OKC tonight, and will find themselves struggling to stay anywhere close in this game down the home stretch. Expect to see Kevin Durant lead the points scoring tonight as he will have a mismatch against Corey Brewer, and look for James Harden to vastly outplay Arron Afflalo on both sides of the court to also be a big contributing factor to the bottom line. Oklahoma City wins this match-up in commanding fashion, 107-96.