Coming Right Back to It: Thunder Takes on Division-Rival Nuggets – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. DEN

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Digital Reporter |

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

A Thanksgiving weekend stuffed with basketball action gets an extra home helping tonight, as the Thunder hosts the Denver Nuggets as a part of a very rare home-home back-to-back set of games.

As a Northwest Division foe, the Nuggets started off the season red hot with a 9-1 record but have dropped 6 of its last 9 games as the Thunder has over-taken them by half a game for the division lead. Standings are moot at this point, just 18 games into the season, but it goes to show that the Western Conference is already a melee of highly competitive, talented teams jockeying for position and duking it out each night.

Denver, laden with youth and skill in the form of center Nikola Jokic and guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray, is coming off a game where it dished out 33 assists on 44 made baskets against Orlando. Despite being shorthanded against a Nuggets team that is one of the best in the league in crashing the offensive glass – coming away with 27.0 percent of its misses – the Thunder will have to stick to its principles and play its same style.

“We’re still going to play the same way, regardless of who’s in, who’s out,” said forward Paul George. “We’ve got a certain style we’ve got to play at, and it’s just up-tempo, fast and then defensively we’re just going to get after it, regardless of who’s in the line-up. We’ve got a principle we stick to.”

With Terrance Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo out with ankle sprains and Alex Abrines still getting his legs under him after an illness, Head Coach Billy Donovan went with Dennis Schröder in the starting lineup against Charlotte alongside Russell Westbrook. Schröder, the super quick German point guard, racked up 23 points as Westbrook scored 30 and the duo continually blasted into the paint to put pressure on the rim. Despite being shifted back and forth as a starter and a reserve all season long, Schröder has just taken it day by day and gone about his business.

“I do not think he gets fazed,” said Donovan. “The most important thing to him is competing and playing hard. He is a great competitor. Whichever way the team needs him to be used, he is willing to do that. Whether it is playing playing off the ball alongside Russell or running the second unit. He obviously wants to be out there playing and contributing which he is, but it doesn’t really make a difference for him.”

“Since I’ve been here, they’ve been fair to me,” said Schröder. “And I’m a team player, I want to win, and it doesn’t matter if I’m coming off of the bench or if I’m starting. I just want to bring it to the team to win some games.”

It remains to be seen whether Donovan will go with Schröder again as a starter alongside Westbrook, but with Murray and Harris on the other side of the floor, the most important component of their job tonight will be on the defensive end. Both of the Thunder’s star point guards have dynamic offensive talent, but also embody the Thunder’s own ethos – length, athleticism and energy on the defensive side of the ball.

“Russell, because he has such flexibility with his size and his strength and his athleticism, he can guard basically anybody on the perimeter,” said Donovan. “Both of those two guys back there, Dennis and Russell, they’ve got great defense ability.”

The key for the Thunder on the other side of the ball is that it can initiate offense from multiple different spots on the floor at any time. The downhill driving of Westbrook (23.9 ppg) and Schröder (17.3 ppg) carve gashes into the opposing defense and can open up attacks from others like George (24.0 ppg), while the Thunder can also get into action by posting up Steven Adams (15.7 ppg) and Jerami Grant (11.5 ppg).

“Everybody can attack, everybody can score, everybody can find open teammates,” said Schröder. “You don’t know where it’s coming from. I think it’s pretty dangerous. We’re doing it in practice and we just have to keep getting better.”

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News & Notes

-        Another element that Schröder has brought to the group is some three-point marksmanship, which has definitely needed during the early part of the season. After going 5-for-6 from behind the arc in Golden State, Schröder went 4-for-8 from distance against Charlotte, bringing his season average up to a career-high 37.0 percent.

  • “Right now, I’m feeling it,” said Schröder. “My shot is feeling good. Just got to keep it going.”

-        With the rotations a bit in flux, it’s possible that Deonte Burton gets another run in the second unit for the Thunder. The two-way player has played some with the OKC Blue this season, but had a career night with 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting against Charlotte. He knocked down a three and hammered home two nasty lefty dunks.

  • “’(Deonte) is just a hooper. You put him out there, he’s going to make things happen,” said George.
  • “He did a good job of being aggressive, playing his game,” added Westbrook. “And it was fun to see him out there, making some plays and getting some dunks.”

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