The 2-0 Denver Nuggets face the 2-0 Oklahoma City Thunder in a battle of first-week undefeateds. Denver won pretty at home against the Los Angeles Lakers, they won ugly on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies, and now will try to end the week perfect any way that they can.
The Thunder have one of the league’s best point guards in All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a Rookie of the Year candidate in Chet Holmgren, and an extremely talented (and extremely young) lineup around them. SGA is the oldest rotation member at just 25 years old. The Thunder are trying to build a budding contender, however, and their first test of this young lineup against the defending champs is this afternoon.
Who: Denver Nuggets (2-0) at Oklahoma City Thunder (2-0)
When: 1:30 PM MDT
Where: Paycom Center. Oklahoma City, OK
How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless it’s the romanticized 18th century type. Altitude TV where available (Altitude is available on DirectTV, DirectTV Stream & Fubo TV), NBA League pass for non-Nuggets market viewers. Altitude Radio 92.5. Wear a Sonics jersey and hope Thunder security think they stole you too.
Injury report: Vlatko Cancar – out (knee), Jay Huff – out (ribs); Kenrich Williams – out (back), Jaylin Williams – out (hamstring)
The Three Things
The key matchup: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander vs. getting to the hoop
SGA is relentless getting to the hoop, and has dozens of moves around the bucket. He leads the league by a large margin in drives through the first 2 games, but even when he gets stopped in his attempt to get close, he gets “close enough” to take care of what he wants to. He can pass out from under the basket, finish in some ways that are reminiscent of Nikola Jokic with footwork and off-balancing defenders, and step-backs and pull-ups that would make Jamal Murray happy. Shai has a very deep bag of tricks and the Nuggets need to limit what they allow him access to. Much like with Jokic, you can’t let Shai do everything – stop him at something and hope that limitation creates a problem for OKC.
Denver’s key: Take care of the ball and don’t get beat in transition. The Nuggets got harassed up and down the court by the Grizzlies, who forced 17 turnovers including 9 from Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets can’t count on OKC turning it over even more like Memphis did. The Nuggets need to limit turnovers and force OKC to beat them in the half court. Holmgren is already proving to be the block machine he was envisioned as, which can create the same kind of weakside help damage that Jaren Jackson Jr. caused for Denver in Memphis game. The Nuggets don’t need to help by giving the ball up and making it easier for Shai to attack them downhill without a set defense.
The thing to bet: Jokic over 1.5 made threes (+145)
Nikola Jokic has made 4 threes on 9 shot attempts early in the season. I expect him to space the floor a bit against the Thunder from the top of the key. There’s decent return on the bet at +145 even if the Thunder are top-5 in 3p% allowed through 2 games. Their numbers from last year (24th) suggest that’s not really a defensive adjustment even with Chet now in town.
If you don’t like that bet, though, MPJ has an over 7.5 rebounds line of (+100). Porter is averaging 12.5 rebounds a game through 2 games. The Thunder are the second-worst team in the league so far when it comes to offensive rebounds – it’s not in their gameplan to crash the offensive glass. That leaves plenty of defensive ones for MPJ to gobble up with his renewed focus on the boards.
Prediction: OKC is gonna make it a fight, but I’ll go 111-106 Denver. It’s hard to get past Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray in crunch time.