Nuggets, Thunder set to clash in NW Division showdown

Potential playoff preview as Denver and OKC play twice in four days

Kevin Durant is aware of the numbers.

Seven times he has played at the Pepsi Center. Seven times he has lost.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder face the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs – a very likely scenario right now – Durant understands the importance of having the home-court advantage.

“Home court is very important, especially playing against a team like (Denver),” Durant said after practicing at the Pepsi Center on Monday. “I’ve never won in this building before. When you look at those odds right there, it’d be tough, especially in the playoffs.”

Just a few days ago, the Thunder held a five-game lead on Denver in the race for the Northwest Division title and No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, but the lead is down to three entering Tuesday night’s showdown.

The Nuggets (47-29) have won 10 straight home games and can put more pressure on Oklahoma City (50-26) this week. The two teams play again Friday at the Ford Center.

“It’s leaning towards we might play each other in the playoffs, but a lot of crazy things can happen,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We just want to play good basketball and finish the season strong going into the playoffs.”

The Nuggets have been going strong since the All-Star break, winning 15 of 19 games. One of their most impressive wins came Sunday when they rallied in the second half for a 95-90 road victory against the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Having spent a year-and-a-half as an assistant to Nuggets coach George Karl, Brooks has not been surprised by Denver’s strong play following the Feb. 22 trade that sent Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks.

“George is a heck of a coach. He can win many ways in this league,” Brooks said. “When they had Carmelo, they won with their style of play and they won a lot of games. Now, they’re still winning a lot of games. I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach and how he manages his teams. He’s probably played more styles than any coach in NBA history.”

Though Karl’s ability to adapt is unquestioned, his preference is to coach a team that plays hard, pushes the pace, shares the ball and doesn’t care who receives the credit.

That’s exactly what the Nuggets have done during a six-game winning streak that includes victories over the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers, who are battling for the best record in the NBA.

“They’re doing a great job of passing the ball, playing together,” Durant said. “They don’t have a guy that’s just going to get you 30 points. They have a group of guys who can do it on any night. When Melo was here, you had to give a great scorer like him the ball down the floor almost every time. But with these guys and everybody touching it, I guess that makes the team better.”

Despite losing two straight road games, Oklahoma City remains on the inside track to secure the No. 4 seed and home-court in the first round. The Thunder’s magic number for clinching the division is four (any combination of OKC wins and Denver losses).

A victory at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday coupled with another Friday in Oklahoma City would do the trick.

“You’ve got to win,” Durant said. “They’re a great team playing very well. It’s going to be tough to stop them, but we’ve got to will ourselves to victory. Easier said than done, but we have to win these two games. It should be a fun atmosphere, a playoff atmosphere.”

ETC: The Nuggets have held the opposition to 90 points or less in three straight games for the first time since Feb. 2009 … Denver shooting guard Arron Afflalo (strained left hamstring) is a game-time decision, while forward Chris Andersen is expected to miss his second game in a row with a sprained right ankle … The Nuggets took Monday off after back-to-back road wins in Sacramento and Los Angeles.

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...