Denver at Oklahoma City
Time: 7 PM CST (ESPN)
Spread: DEN -1
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Denver Nuggets have won seven of its last 10 SU and are No. 2 in the Western Conference standings at 38-17. It trails No.1 Los Angeles (Lakers) by four games and travels to face Oklahoma City tonight in the first half of a Friday night ESPN doubleheader. The Nuggets are 1-point favorites with the betting total set at 217 points according to NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes.
DEN NEWS & NOTES:
The Denver Nuggets are playing better, and as one would guess it mostly relates to a turnaround on the part of its star center Nikola Jokic.
Some have criticized Jokic for his poor conditioning, but it is hard to ignore the fact that he continues to play good basketball overall while using his immense skills to more than makeup for his slow feet. Jokic is averaging 19.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and a team-leading 6.4 assists per game while posting a PER of 24.80. He also recently posted a 47-point game, so while Jokic may never appear to do anything too quickly, he does make the right moves and can be a dominant center in an era that does not even favor big men.
The Nuggets are led in scoring by Jamal Murray, who many expected to make a still-bigger leap following his outstanding postseason performances in 2019.
Instead, Murray is the second-leading at 17.6 points per game, and ranking No. 2 in assists at 4.6 per. Will Barton continues to look like a poor man’s Kevin Durant, providing a lot of shooting on the wing and a fearless trigger. Barton averages 14.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game and is one of five Nuggets with a PER above the league average of 15 (17.17).
The Nuggets are a deep team on paper, but it is still really not testing out the talents of Michael Porter Jr that much, and Malik Beasley saw a role reduction before being dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Gary Harris and Barton both see over 32 minutes per game, leaving the backups to fight over the remaining minutes, leaving some good talents to sit, naturally. Juancho Hernangomez has had his role decline and he too was jettisoned to the T-Wolves, though he did average four points per game in just 13 minutes a night.
That moves up Michael Porter Jr. on the depth chart, and he led the Nuggets in scoring last game with 19 points, and if he is able to come on strong and stay healthy, Denver could be “scary good.”
The Nuggets will eventually likely decided on a shorter rotation, but for the time being there are 11 Nuggets who play at least 14 minutes per game. It is a team loaded with talent, but both of its top scoring options are probably not true No. 1 options on a contending team, and that includes Jokic. The Nuggets have great team chemistry, but one wonders if its lack of true star power might not hurt it. While Nikola Jokic and Murray function quite well as a tandem, it seems Denver would be better delegating more responsibility to one or the other, to develop a true 1A option, especially late in games.
The Thunder are surging, and the team has won seven of its last 10 games. OKC is better than expected, but perhaps it was just underestimated, to begin with.
Veterans Danilo Gallinari and Dennis Schroder have come through, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is breaking out as the future leader of this team. Gilgeous-Alexander came courtesy of the Los Angeles Clippers, and he leads the team in minutes per game (35.4) and in scoring (19.8 per game).
Chris Paul is a steady influence at 16.3 points and 6.6 assists per game, which leads the Thunder. Steven Adams is averaging just shy of a double-double, and Nerlens Noel is functioning well as a post defender in the second unit. The Thunder probably has its work cut out for it to make the postseason, but it is not altogether out of the realm of possibility that this rebuilding team sneaks into the postseason.
With Schroder, Gallinari, and Paul, the Thunder have a veteran core mixed with the youth and the savvy defense of Adams to bring it together on the defensive end. OKC averages 108.8 points per game and limits its opponents to 107.5. In the Thunders’ most recent loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, it got 24 points and 15 rebounds out of Steven Adams. He looked better than Sixers cornerstone Joel Embiid, and Adams has the potential to do that as a player whose talents are not all translatable into statistics.
With Westbrook gone the thought was that he would be a big-time rebounder, but he seems to still be adjusting to the notion that he can grab them at will without Russ’ concerns of getting triple-doubles. Few expected the Thunder to improve after shedding a triple-double monster like Westbrook, but the balance and overall team play has made the Thunder into a formidable playoff contender.