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Game Preview: What to Look for in the Nuggets Game at Oklahoma City

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Nuggets are in Oklahoma City for a Monday night showdown against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena, looking to grab consecutive victories for the first time this month.

The last time the Nuggets won back-to-back games was on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2 against Chicago and the L.A. Lakers. Today, they are entering the game coming off of a win over New Orleans last Saturday.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City is slowly figuring things out with their new roster configuration. They started slowly, getting out to an 8-12 start with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. But they have won six of their last nine games since then, as things are turning for them in December.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone has noticed.

“I think they are still trying to find themselves, to be honest, but I do think they are improved,” said Malone, whose Nuggets beat OKC 102-94 in Denver on Nov. 9. “You’re starting to see them come together a little bit. I think the key is at some point Russell Westbrook has to get back to being Russell Westbrook.

“Obviously, when you add a Paul George and you add a Carmelo Anthony, you can see Russell trying to play his game but also try to get everyone else involved. Whereas last year he just played. And obviously he was the MVP. But they look a little bit more improved and I think they are trying to figure it out, and I think they are getting closer to figuring it out than they were in the first time we played them.”

What do the Nuggets need to do to grab a victory tonight? Start with these things…

Make everything tough for Westbrook: Russell Westbrook is arguably the most dynamic athletic force in the NBA. But he is not shooting the ball well this season, and the Nuggets can do their part to help keep it that way by making all of his shot attempts difficult. That means hands up on Westbrook’s jump shots and contesting everything possible at the rim. If they can avoid letting the reigning MVP get into a rhythm and make all of his points tough ones, that could pay dividends, especially if he takes a high volume of shots.

Continue to work Jokić back to regular minutes: Nikola Jokić played 22 minutes off the bench in the Nuggets win over New Orleans last Saturday as he continues to recover from a sprained ankle. Jokić still isn’t ready for his normal 30-plus minutes, but this is the next step toward getting him there. Jokić was still highly productive in limited time, getting 13 points and 11 rebounds against the Pelicans. The Nuggets are 11-1 this season when Jokic gets a double-double.

Contain Paul George: One common denominator in Oklahoma City’s victories are big games out of Paul George. He averages 22.4 points, shoots 45 percent from the 3-point line and makes nearly four of them in OKC victories. Now, the Nuggets did a good job against him in beating the Thunder in Denver on Nov. 9, limiting him to 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting – and just one 3-pointer. Do that again and the Nuggets will give themselves a good chance on Monday night.

INJURY REPORT: Emmanuel Mudiay (ankle) is doubtful for the game. Paul Millsap (wrist) is out.

Christopher Dempsey: and @chrisadempsey on Twitter