PREVIEW: Short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder look to stop skid vs. Denver Nuggets

By Field Level Media
Feb 10, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Luguentz Dort (5) reacts with center Al Horford (42) after scoring a basket and drawing a foul against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost their last two games, which may lead to the conclusion they are a struggling team.

Put into context, Oklahoma City is playing better than its recent results show.

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The Thunder head to Denver to face the Nuggets on Friday night trying to break that mini skid, but if they play like they have lately, they’ll give Denver fits. Oklahoma City’s two losses both came in overtime to the defending champion Lakers in Los Angeles by a combined eight points.

What makes the close losses more impressive is the Thunder had the minimum of eight available players on Wednesday night and were without leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander because of a left knee sprain. He is listed as day-to-day for Friday’s game. Despite that, the Lakers needed a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime and then a great defensive play from LeBron James to seal the win.

Oklahoma is already without George Hill (thumb surgery) and Isaiah Roby (foot), and Theo Maledon (COVID-19 protocols) missed Wednesday’s game. It has been challenging, but first-year coach Mark Daigneault is trying to take the positives from the adversity.

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“We’ve gone through a lot of changing circumstances,” Daigneault said Wednesday. “Our guys have done a great job of taking it in stride and not making excuses. And developmentally it’s great when we can put them in different situations. Overall, we’re just trying to make sure that we’re taking it in, we’re adapting and we’re embracing the circumstances the best we can.”

Playing in Denver will be another challenge for the Thunder. The Nuggets won the first meeting between them, 119-101, on Jan. 19 in Denver, a month in which they went 11-5. They didn’t get their first win in February until a 133-95 win over Cleveland on Wednesday night, a much-needed bounce back after dropping three in a row.

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Denver is playing without Gary Harris (adductor strain) and PJ Dozier (hamstring) but got Jamal Murray back after he missed a game with a sore knee. Facundo Campazzo also returned against the Cavaliers, and there is a chance Harris could return sooner than later. He has been going through workouts before games but has not been cleared to play.

Having players out has been an issue, but in the three-game losing streak the Nuggets were suffering from poor third quarters. They seemed to remedy that Wednesday, outscoring Cleveland 36-23 and turning a 21-point halftime lead into a laugher.

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Denver coach Michael Malone said he emphasized improved third-quarter play to his team before Wednesday’s tipoff.

“I challenged our guys to get out of the locker room a lot faster, to warm up, to get ready to play,” he said after the win. “This season we’ve had big leads at halftime, and the third quarter has been something that wasn’t very good to us. I was proud of our guys for understanding the importance of playing for 48 minutes and coming out at the half and playing a really solid third quarter.”

–Field Level Media