Thunder Blow Past Nuggets To Secure #3 Seed In Playoffs
By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Just about everything was working right for the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night in Denver as they led by as much as 33 and cruised to a 124-102 blowout win over the Nuggets. The victory secured a third place finish in the Western Conference.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook also had outstanding individual performances. Westbrook had his 17th triple-double of the season, the most since Magic Johnson also had 17 in the 1988-89 season.
"It's a great honor," Westbrook said. "Whenever you're mentioned in the same sentence as Magic, it's always great. That's something you never take for granted."
Westbrook finished with 13 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists. Earlier in the day Russ had been named the Western Conference Player of the Month for March. He had seven triple-doubles last month and now has 35 for his career. The Thunder are 31-4 in those games and 17-0 this season when Westbrook records a triple-double.
Durant finished with 26 points and eight assists, extending his streak to 62 straight games with at least 20 points.
It was also a good night for Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters. All three ended up with 18 points and Kanter also pulled down 11 rebounds.
OKC got off to a sluggish defensive start, giving up 30 points on 57.1 percent shooting. That changed in the second quarter when Denver managed just 21 points on 38.1 percent. The Thunder outscored the Nuggets 75-47 in the second and third quarters, taking control of the contest.
For the game the Thunder shot 52.9 percent and held the Nuggets to 42.0 percent. OKC again held a massive advantage in rebounding 55-38.
The Thunder know for sure now they’ll have the #3 seed and so will face the team that finishes sixth but there’s still considerable doubt as to who that will be.
There’s still a mathematical chance the opponent could be any one of five teams still going back-and-forth with each other in the standings.
It could very well be the team they’ll play tonight, the Portland Trail Blazers. But the Blazers have being playing fairly well lately and the team just ahead of them, the Memphis Grizzlies, have been in freefall because of several injuries. Dallas, Utah and Houston could also end up in the sixth spot.
It will be interesting to see how Billy Donovan plays this game tonight. A Portland win, could help move the Blazers up to fifth in the standings and thus avoiding a matchup with OKC. The Thunder would probably much rather face a short-handed Grizzlies team just an hour charter flight away in Memphis than a dangerous bunch of Trail Blazers halfway across the country.
It’s also the second night of a back-to-back and with the Thunder’s own seeding settled it would not be surprising to see Donovan decide to rest at least a couple of his starters.
After last night’s game though, he seemed to be leaning the other way telling reporters,"Sometimes when you rest players you take away that rhythm and flow but you eliminate the risk of injury," Donovan said. "What we are going to do is after every game we will evaluate where each individual player is at."
So far Donovan has rested Ibaka twice late in the season and Durant once.
The Thunder will not have shootaround before tonight’s game so we won’t have an official word about who’s playing and who’s not until Donovan addresses the media about 90 minutes before tipoff.