New Improved Thunder Defense Will Be Tested Tonight

By Randy Renner

All of a sudden the Oklahoma City Thunder have become one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. All season long they’ve had one of the most potent offenses, ranked anywhere from first to third depending on when you checked.

The defense lagged behind during the beginning of the season but has been catching up lately.

During the Thunder’s just completed homestand they allowed opponents to score just 88 points a game on 40.2 percent shooting. For the entire season the Thunder are up to 10th in the league in scoring defense, allowing right at 100 points a game, their defensive field goal percentage is down to 43.0 percent which ranks fifth in the NBA.

The Thunder held Miami to a season-low point total on 41.7 percent shooting Sunday when they cruised to a 99-74 victory to sweep a three-game homestand.

"It was probably the most complete game we've played defensively," coach Billy Donovan said. "We used our length and size and from a sustainability standpoint, we sustained for a long period of time, which was great to see."

That defense could be tested tonight. Denver’s offensive rating is eighth in the NBA with the Nuggets averaging 101.3 points per 100 possessions.

So far this season the Thunder have handled the Nuggets without much of a problem. After holding them to 38 percent shooting in November, the Thunder ran past them behind their own 57.8 mark last month and they've averaged 120.5 points on 54 percent shooting in winning the past four meetings by an average of 17.2 points a game.

But the Nuggets are coming off their best offensive game of the season, a 129-126 win over Indiana Sunday night.

"When your backs are against the wall - attack," said Nuggets coach Mike Malone. "At the end of the day, the most aggressive team is going to win."

Denver forward Danilo Gallinari has averaged 23.9 points in eight games back from an ankle injury. The veteran was held to 15 points on 3-of-13 shooting in Denver's 117-93 loss at The Peake on November 1st before sitting out a 122-112 road defeat December 27th.

Russell Westbrook will be gunning for his third straight triple-double and he narrowly missed a triple-double with 30 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds in that December contest. Durant contributed 26 points and 10 assists that night as the superstar tandem became the first teammates to have 25 and 10 apiece since 1996. If Russ can get his third triple-double in a row tonight he’ll join Golden State’s Draymond Green as the only players to accomplish the feat this season. Westbrook has 24 in his career and five this season. The Thunder are 5-0 in those games.

Durant has scored 31.4 per game in his last 14 against the Nuggets, while Westbrook is averaging 28.2 points, 7.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds in his past 13 games against Denver.

The Thunder will go into the game healthy but Denver is expected to be without center Jusuf Nurkic due to a left knee injury and point guard Jameer Nelson is questionable with a sprained left wrist.

The Thunder and the Nuggets will tipoff at 8:10 Oklahoma time tonight and you can see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma. OKC hosts Charlotte at The Peake Wednesday night.