Preview: Denver Nuggets face Thunder in second seeding game

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The first seeding game didn’t go as planned for the Denver Nuggets.

Down three starters in Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton III, Denver fought hard in the first half against the Miami Heat but struggled mightily in the second half, ultimately falling 125-105.

Once again, turnovers and 3-point defense plagued Denver (43-23), as 19 turnovers led to 35 points for the Heat, while Miami connected on 44.8 percent of its attempts from beyond the arc. While Nikola Jokić (19 points, seven rebounds and six assists) and Jerami Grant (19 points on 7-of-14 shooting) had solid performances in the loss, others struggled to find a rhythm against a tough Miami defense.

Monday’s contest may not be any easier, as the Oklahoma City Thunder are right on Denver’s heels in the standings. Oklahoma City (41-24) sits just 1 ½ games behind the Nuggets, and with the two teams splitting the first two meetings, Monday’s game could go a long way in deciding potential tiebreakers in the standings.

Oklahoma City is coming off an impressive 110-94 victory over the Utah Jazz. Six players scored in double-figures for Billy Donovan’s squad, led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (19 points) and Chris Paul (18 points).

Here are three storylines to watch in Monday’s contest.

Attacking the offensive glass is crucial

Head coach Michael Malone indicated that the Nuggets will likely be without two, if not all three of the backcourt players that missed Saturday’s game, meaning that he will have to rely on lineups with multiple big men and long wings.

However, that could prove to be advantageous against Oklahoma City, as Denver may be able to create a significant advantage on the offensive glass.

Over the course of the 2019-20 season, the Nuggets rank third in offensive rebound percentage, as they’ve grabbed a rebound on 28 percent of their missed shots. Although Oklahoma City isn’t a bad defensive rebounding team, the Thunder rank 17th in defensive rebound percentage, thus presenting an opportunity for Denver to capitalize on the tall lineups that will likely see the floor Monday.

The battle in the mid-range

As expected when it comes to any Chris Paul-led team, the Thunder loves the mid-range. Oklahoma City ranks third in the league in the frequency of shots coming from that area of the floor, only slightly ahead of Denver, who ranks fifth.

While the two teams rank close together in terms of frequency, the Thunder capitalize on their shots from the mid-range, connecting on 44.2 percent this season, which tops the league. The Nuggets have been an elite mid-range shooting team in their own right, shooting 42 percent on such shots.

Whichever team can get to their spots more often and connect from inside the arc will likely pull out the victory in this potential playoff preview.

Can Jokić continue his domination over OKC?

In two games against the Thunder this season, Nikola Jokić has been, in a word, unstoppable. The two-time All-Star has averaged 30 points, 10.5 rebounds and eight assists per game on 79.3 percent shooting from the field (including 50 percent from beyond the arc) against Oklahoma City.

Although Steven Adams presents a physical matchup for the Serbian big man, Jokić has often relied on his touch and footwork in the post to get the better of him in the matchup.

Given the likelihood that Denver is shorthanded once again, Jokić will have to be at his peak performance to try and lead the Nuggets to a much-needed victory.

Monday’s game will tip at 2 p.m. MT and will air on both Altitude and NBA TV.

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