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NBA Playoff Preview: Oklahoma City vs. Denver

Apr 14, 2011, 2:22 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder Center Kendrick Perkins (5) And Denver Nuggets Center Nene (31) From Brazil Go Toe To Toe AP

SEASON RECORDS
Thunder: 55-27 (No. 4 seed)
Nuggets 50-32 (No. 5 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Oklahoma City 3-1, including sweeping two games in April when the Nuggets were playing well and were everyone’s new second favorite team.

KEY INJURIES
Thunder: No significant injuries.
Nuggets: Ty Lawson sprained his ankle in the season finale Wednesday and it has been described as “throbbing” but he is expected to go and maybe start Game 1; Arron Afflalo has a lingering hamstring injury and while he is expected back for the series when remains unknown; both Nene and Danilo Gallinari are expected to play through minor injuries in this series.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Thunder: Off. 108.6 (4th in NBA); 104 (13th in NBA)
Nuggets: Off. 109.5 (1st in NBA); 104.8 (16th in NBA)

THREE KEY THUNDER

Kevin Durant: He is the leading scorer in the league and he will be the focus of the Thunder offense — and Denver doesn’t have a real good way to stop him. He dropped 32 and 21 on them in the two April meetings (Durant was very efficient in the first game, not efficient in the second but it didn’t matter). In a series where the Oklahoma City Thunder defense may make it hard on the Nuggets to score, the points that Durant does put up may be the difference.

Russell Westbrook: We know just how good he is, but he has to start taking the next step because he is the key to how far the Thunder go this playoffs. If he plays within the system, the Thunder will win this series and likely more. If he starts trying to do too much himself, taking on the defense and not setting up teammates, playing selfishly and then turning the ball over, Denver will be right there. Westbrook can be a force of nature, but as the point guard he still has to share the wealth.

James Harden: Since the trade that sent Jeff Green out — for Kendrick Perkins in a very good move for the Thunder — Harden has picked up the scoring slack. He is averaging 15.8 per game since the All-Star break, and he does it with this cool old-man-at-the-Y game. He hits his shots, defends, always seems to be in the right spot making the right play. Not flashy, just damn good.

THREE KEY NUGGETS

Ty Lawson: The Nuggets need him healthy — he played well against the Thunder this season, nearly 16 points per game on 57 percent shooting. He’s quick, can penetrate and break things down. Easy points are hard to come by against the Kendrick Perkins Thunder, they need all the shooters they can get.

Danilo Gallinari: He is matched up on Kevin Durant. He has got to get a hand in his face when he shoots and make Durant do a lot of work on defense. Contest and just try to wear him down. The Nuggets are going to need points from the Italian star to hang with the Thunder.

George Karl: During the regular season, he got his team to play defense, share the ball and play with a real chip on their shoulder. That kind of team ball won them a lot of games and made them a fun team to watch. They became the plucky underdogs everyone wants to root for. But now he’s got to find a way to slow down a young, energetic team with much more firepower than he has at his disposal.

OUTLOOK

The real key to this series in the Thunder defense — they shut the Nuggets down in two recent meetings. In those games Denver shot 42 percent and in both games had an offensive rating of under 100 (points per 100 possessions). If Denver does not find a way to get some points — ideally some easy buckets — this series could be a lot shorter than people think.

Ty Lawson has to come up big, Nene needs to get Kendrick Perkins into foul trouble and keep Russell Westbrook from doing whatever he wants in the lane. Kevin Durant has to be forced to work for his shots and find them contested. Denver has to play as well as it can.

Problem is what we saw in the two recent games between these teams — OKC plays well as a team too, and they have Durant and Westbrook. Better players, more firepower.

PREDICTION

There will be no easy games for the Thunder, Denver will make them work for it. But in the end, Oklahoma City is just the better team.

Thunder in 6.

  1. dysraw1 - Apr 14, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    this is gonna be 1 hell of a series, most intriguing match ups in the whole tourney.

  2. thestudiokida - Apr 14, 2011 at 3:56 PM

    Thunder in 5 and that’s only because Denver has a way of lighting it up every once and a while. This is where Denver’s fantasy run ends.

  3. yankeesjetsknicksrangers - Apr 14, 2011 at 4:06 PM

    I see a fight going down in this one with Perkins going against Kenyon and Nene.

    Lets go Nuggets……………………

    In 6

  4. oumoonunit - Apr 14, 2011 at 4:16 PM

    I see the Thunder pulling out the broom, but the difference will be Nene. If he can play better than he did the last two games against OKC, it could be a much longer hard fought series.

  5. passerby23 - Apr 14, 2011 at 4:16 PM

    Denver is a scary, balanced team that you don’t want to face, but the playoffs are also about star power. Who’s the go-to guy who is going to take the big shot down the stretch for Denver? Plus, OKC has homecourt and playoff experience behind them. OKC in 5 or 6.

    • denverhoopdreams - Apr 14, 2011 at 6:18 PM

      Anyone can take that shot. Thats the thing. The real question for OKC is… WHO TO GUARD?

      • passerby23 - Apr 14, 2011 at 8:37 PM

        No team has ever won with just a bunch of solid players. You need the leader, the big shot taker and maker. There has to be decisiveness down the stretch about where you’re going to get a basket from. Even riding a hot hand isn’t great if the player isn’t accustomed to the big moments. It’s all well and good when you’re blowing a team out, but I think we agree that’s probably not gonna happen here.

        I’m not counting Denver out because of two recent losses to the Thunder, I just think the Thunder are a better team and better equipped to win playoff games than the Nuggets are.

  6. denverhoopdreams - Apr 14, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    Everyone said the Nuggets were going to become the next Cav’s when the trade happened. Everyones saying the Nuggets won’t be able to handle the Thunder in a 7 game series.

    Everyones going to be watching Powder Blue Miracles continue to happen.

    • jjared1101 - Apr 14, 2011 at 4:37 PM

      I like Denver. They knocked out my Mavs two years ago so i have plenty of reason to be bitter towards them but they’re very fun to watch. Ty is going to be a great point guard. But the Thunder have good defense and as a Mavs fan, i can tell you that having superstars in the playoffs is going to get your calls (deserved or not). The Thunder have two superstars. One that gets to the charity stripe more than anyone in the NBA and another that drives to the basket with regularity. Denver will put up a fight, but the Thunder have too much star power.

      • denverhoopdreams - Apr 14, 2011 at 6:16 PM

        We lost both games at the free throw line ourselves. We make those free throws that we were missing and those games look a lot closer than most are realizing. Most people looking at the past two games are looking at the final score. Not the box score and not what happened.

        If we make those free throws in the playoffs, the Thunder are going to have trouble making up ground.

  7. chargerdillon - Apr 14, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    The nuggets are going to get smoked…….I know they had a big burst when they lost melo, lets just keep this as short and sweet as possible

    Great talent > Good teamwork

    The nuggets are a good team, the thunder possess some of the best talent in the NBA right now
    nuff said

    • denverhoopdreams - Apr 14, 2011 at 6:04 PM

      I think you forget that the Nuggets in previous years have had some of the best talent.. did that get them anywhere?

    • mojowheelz - Apr 14, 2011 at 9:21 PM

      The Thunders best talent is a first class flop artist. I have never seen another player who gets so many phantom calls as Durant. He is such a skilled player, so I have no idea why the refs give him the stripe so often. I agree with @denverhoopdreams about the boxscore in the previous games being more important than the final score. The Nuggets lost those games, the Thunder did NOT beat them.
      I will be interested to see how the Nuggets play with Aaron Afflalo (who missed both games), who is easily the Nuggets best two way player. I did not see the two guard lineup with Felton and Lawson, that opened up the perimeter shots, nearly as much as I saw it in other games the Nuggets played. Makes you wonder if old Goerge Karl played a little opossum in the previous two matchups. I read where he still had not installed all of their plays, and planned on saving many of the new ones for playoff surprises. Nuggets in an exciting 6 games.
      BTW, I agree with @dysraw1…this going to have the best matchups of the championship tourney.

  8. dysraw1 - Apr 14, 2011 at 11:07 PM

    denver now carries a young man who everyday is discovering the wonderful things he can do with that 6 11 frame of his. u r now hearing this from me d- gallo is on the cusp of greatness, problem is he can either score 30 or 15 on any giving night. once he learns 2 relax out there watch out.

  9. rushbacker - Apr 14, 2011 at 11:09 PM

    Like Bart Scott said, “Can’t wait!”

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