OKC at DEN Preview – Third Clash with a Division Rival

DENVER – In the NBA, teams become so familiar with division rivals that each game and each possession becomes a battle of wills and execution.

The Thunder knows exactly what tonight’s opponents, the Denver Nuggets, will try to do on the offensive end. It will be up to the Thunder to do what it did so successfully during the team’s last meeting in Denver on December 17th, when the Thunder won 105-93.

By getting back on defense to prevent penetration from the Nuggets’ Ty Lawson and then closing out on shooters along the perimeter, the Thunder will have a chance to get stops and get back to its strong defensive-minded ways that have helped the team be so successful so far this season.

“We have to play better as a group defensively, and we will,” Brooks said. “Our guys take a lot of pride in what we do.”

“We have our work cut out for us,” forward Kevin Durant said. “Transition defense is very important. One on one defense, they like to get in the paint and drive-and-kick then just building out to the three-point line once they do so. We just have to be on point as individuals and a defense. Once they start driving and penetrating as a team, we have to help them out.”

A major boost to those defensive efforts comes in the form of Serge Ibaka, who returns to the lineup after missing one game with flu-like symptoms. Ibaka’s presence in the paint earns praise from teammates and coaches as he not only blocks shots, but alters them and prevents shots in the lane from happening at all.

Beyond just protecting the rim, Ibaka is also an important part of the Thunder’s five-man defensive shell. As he has continued to develop and grow in the league, his team-oriented defense and one-on-one defensive abilities have improved as well. With the ability to defend multiple positions on the floor, Ibaka’s versatility and athleticism gives the Thunder flexibility in how it defends opponents.

“He’s getting better,” Brooks said. “It’s easy to just point out a defensive player who blocks shots, gets steals or get defensive rebounds but you have to be able to guard many areas of the floor to be considered a good defensive player. He’s like a lot of our guys in that he can do a lot of things defensively.”

In the Notes:

- The Thunder is 2-0 against the Nuggets this season, and overall is 9-12 against Denver.

- The Thunder has only allowed one opponent, the Utah Jazz on January 7th, shoot higher than 50 percent from the field this season.

- The Thunder is 8-2 when making 10-or-more steals in a game this season.

Broadcast Info:

9:30 p.m. CT. TV – Fox Sports Oklahoma and TNT, Radio – 98.1 FM The Sports Animal, Thunder Radio Network