Rivalry games in the Mile High City don’t come juicier than this. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook is a player Nuggets fans love to hate. Former Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony is on the same team. Steven Adams has been known to mix it up with Nuggets players.
The ingredients for an intense, nationally-televised showdown tonight at the Pepsi Center between the Nuggets and Thunder are there. Oklahoma City rolls in on a three-game losing streak as they try and work through chemistry issues on the offensive end.
That’s most of what led their star leader, Russell Westbrook, to focus on his own team when asked what, if anything concerned him about the Nuggets.
“Actually, I’m not worried about the Nuggets tonight, I’m just worried about the Thunder and what we can go out and do,” Westbrook said. “That’s my main focus, on our team and the rest will take care of itself.”
The Nuggets are riding a nice stretch of winning coming into the game, which is ABA Night at the arena. They’ve won three of the first four games in this season-long six-game homestand and have won five of their last seven overall.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone listed of a number of areas for the Nuggets to take care of in order to have a chance to win. But off the top, he expects a very focused effort out of the Thunder.
“They’ve lost three games in a row and I think you can kind of sense the frustration they have just with their own selves,” Malone said. “So, we know we are going to get an unbelievably motivated and aggressive team coming out.”
What do the Nuggets need to do to win? Start with these things…
Make the most of second opportunities: Among the frailties in Oklahoma City’s shaky start is a penchant for allowing opponents to have success in collecting offensive rebounds. This is a big deal for the Nuggets because at 10.9 per game they are fifth in the league in offensive rebounds. However, the Thunder does not surrender a ton of second-chance points per game (11.5), so the Nuggets must make the most of their chances against a stout defensive team.
Be ready to be physical. Steven Adams, at 7-0, 255 pounds, isn’t just an imposing figure from sheer size, he’s also going to throw that weight around. Nuggets bigs who are mixing it up with Adams must bring their hard hat and fight force with force. Adams has been a thorn in the Nuggets’ side in the past, and in addition to battling him, Denver’s bigs have to be aware of his diving to the rim. Adams is one of the best bigs in the league in pick-and-roll.
Pay attention to the pick-and-roll details: The Nuggets are going to get hit with what will seem like a million different screen-roll combinations. Knowing how to handle every instance is paramount, whether it’s as traditional as a Russell Westbrook-Steven Adams pick-and-roll or it’s more complicated, like a Westbrook-Carmelo Anthony or Anthony-Paul George pick-and-roll. The participants matter in each and every case, and the Nuggets must have a plan, be attentive to who is running the screen-roll and be nimble enough to adjust on the fly if need be.
INJURY REPORT: Juancho Hernangomez (mononucleosis) is out of tonight’s game.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey.