NBA League Pass Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets

Russell Westbrook led the NBA in scoring in the 2014-15 campaign.
Russell Westbrook led the NBA in scoring in the 2014-15 campaign.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets
Time: 8 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: OKC -9
Total: 212

Betting odds c/o 5dimes

The Oklahoma City Thunder are riding a four-game win streak. Kevin Durant and the Thunder held off Minnesota 101-96 on Tuesday night.

Durant shot 11 of 25 in that game for 30 points, three assists and seven rebounds. Russell Westbrook shot 8 of 15 from the floor for 22 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. It came back the next game to easily knock off one of the better teams in the East, defeating the Miami Heat 99-74 in OKC.

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Westbrook and Durant combine for 50.7 points per game this season and both have PERs approaching 30 (Durant, 28.3; Westbrook, 29.4). The Thunder have been pleased to get a consistent third option in Enes Kanter. Kanter is averaging 11.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this season and came aboard last year around this time before the trade deadline. Kanter, Dion Waiters and Serge Ibaka can all do a rotation of being that third option that most are quick to say OKC lacks.

Waiters is averaging 9.9 points and three rebounds per game, but Kanter is posting the third-highest PER on the team at 23.9. The Thunder do have an assortment of guys who can eventually form a reliable second unit. But until that time: its top-two talents are so good it hardly matters.

There is scarcely a team with the top-end talent the Thunder have with two former NBA scoring champs in the starting lineup. Last year, Westbrook took the league’s scoring title and Durant had already won it three times before he was even 25 years old. Westbrook is still chasing his first career MVP award while Durant possesses one already, but both are undoubtedly more focused on securing a title together this season.

The Thunder missed the postseason on the season’s final day last year when it fell to the New Orleans Pelicans, but this season the Thunder have a healthy, ready duo.

The Nuggets are 16-25 on the season and have not even been a major threat at the Pepsi Center where the team is just 8-12. Denver has a negative 4.1 point differential and has lost six of its past 10 games.

Expect Denver to be active at the trade deadline. With no clear direction, the Nuggets may fire sale some of the talent on its roster. Atop that list will be forward Danilo Gallinari and big man Kenneth Faried. Both are in the midst of good and productive seasons, but Denver has no hope of salvaging this season and making the playoffs.

Gallo is averaging 18.8 points per game while hitting 36.1 percent from three and he could make an attractive stretch-4 on the right roster.

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Faried is good for 12 points and nine boards, but showed no propensity towards taking on the bigger role that the Nuggets tried to provide him after a breakout rookie campaign.

Will Barton may end up being the Nuggets blue chip prospect, and he indeed has already played some good basketball. Barton is averaging 15.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while posting a PER of 18.9.

That trails only Gallinari and Faried.

Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay has battled leg injuries and is posting a PER of just 6.7, but that is a reflection of his efficiency, not his potential. The Nuggets can build around Barton and Mudiay going forward, both dynamic offensive talents and plenty youthful. While this game is certainly not a showcase game for the Nuggets to be dealt, that seems like the ultimate destiny of this roster—implosion. Mudiay stuffed the stat sheet in Denver’s win over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night, with 10 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals and a block.

The Nuggets have won three of its past four games with a surprise 112-110 victory over Golden State on Jan. 13 in the heap. The Nuggets have knocked off three playoff contending teams in the Warriors, Pacers and Charlotte Hornets, and it narrowly lost to the Miami Heat on Jan 15. There may not be a lot of good reasons to expect Denver to keep it up by playing with OKC as 9-point dogs, but given the Nuggets recent performance covering the spread is very much in play in this game.

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