Importance of Game 3 Not Lost on Thunder, Nuggets
DENVER -- The importance of Game 3 is not lost on either the Thunder or the Denver Nuggets. The importance of altitude, however, is up for discussion.
As the countdown continues to tipoff Saturday night (9 p.m. Central, Fox Sports Oklahoma), Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks and his players on Friday dismissed talk that the extreme difference in elevation between Oklahoma City (1,334 feet) and Denver (5,470) will be a factor as the best-of-seven series shifts to the Mile High City for two games.
"It's a problem, trust me," Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin said. "We go on the road for four days and come back, it's a problem for us. I can only imagine what it's like for teams that have to play here."
The Thunder arrived in Denver on Thursday, a decision Martin said was "smart." Brooks said the early arrival was more about getting settled in and focused as a team on the challenge that is Game 3.
But does altitude play a role?
"With our guys? I don't see it," Brooks said. "The home-court advantage to me is good players, and Denver's got a bunch of good players. That's why they won 33 games at home, not because of the altitude."
Said guard Russell Westbrook: "I'm not really worried about altitude. We can play under water for all I care. We're just going to go out there and play."
The Thunder expects the Nuggets to be at their best -- and with their best players for the first time in this series. Arron Afflalo, the Nuggets' best defender who has been sidelined the past two weeks with a left hamstring strain, will make his first appearance in the series Saturday.
Westbrook knows Afflalo well; the two were roommates for one season at UCLA. He also knows what Afflalo brings to the mix: toughness.
"They're not missing toughness, but he's going to bring more toughness," Westbrook said. "We know they're going to come out, be ready to compete and play hard."
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, who played a big role in setting the physical, defensive tone in Game 2, expects the Nuggets to go "all out."
"No team wants to go down 3-0 in a series. We expect them to come out and give us their best," he said. "One thing we have to do is keep our composure and we'll be all right. We expect them to be all out tomorrow, no doubt."
The Nuggets were 33-8 on their home court this season, the third-best record in the NBA. They were 11-1 since the Feb. 24 trade deadline. The one loss? To the Thunder on April 5.
"That's over with now. That was the regular season," Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. "There's a lot of stuff on the line this Game 3. We feel confident in our game plan and how we play, but that game a few weeks ago doesn't mean anything.
"To come in here and get a win is going to be really, really tough. With their crowd and how they play at home, they're even faster in transition at home. It's going to be tough. But we're looking forward to that challenge. That's something we get up for, playing a team on its home floor. It should be fun. I'm looking forward to it."