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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads Thunder into matchup vs. Nuggets

Sportsnaut
Nov 1, 2022; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) looks at the scoreboard during a time out against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Paycom Center. Oklahoma City won 116-108. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Denver Nuggets and the Oklahoma City Thunder faced off — Oct. 22 in Denver — chants of “MVP” echoed throughout the arena for Nuggets star Nikola Jokic.

Jokic earned the chants, both with his triple-double performance in that game and with his track record in winning the award the past two seasons.

When the Thunder beat the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night, the Oklahoma City crowd directed similar chants toward Thunder standout Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

It’s still early in the season, but entering Thursday night’s meeting between the Nuggets and host Thunder, Gilgeous-Alexander certainly is playing at an extremely high level.

In six games, he is averaging 31.5 points, 6.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks.

The offensive contributions aren’t new for Gilgeous-Alexander, but his game continues to grow, especially on the defensive end.

“I still don’t think he’s playing his best basketball for 48 (minutes) at least,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said.

Gilgeous-Alexander figures to have a chance to show off his defensive improvement against the Nuggets.

In the earlier meeting, a 122-117 Denver win, Gilgeous-Alexander had a steal and was held without a block, though he did have 28 points and seven assists.

If the Nuggets were worn down the last time they took on Oklahoma City — the game was the last in a three-games-in-four-nights stretch for Denver — they figure to be well-rested for this one.

The Nuggets haven’t played since Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Denver is just 1-3 on the road, with defense being a primary reason why.

“We have yet to play any defense in a road game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We let guys get comfortable.”

The Nuggets are allowing an average of more than 125 points per game on the road and have the NBA’s worst road defensive rating so far, allowing 123.6 points per 100 possessions.

Oklahoma City has been among the league’s best on defense at home this season, with a 104.4 defensive rating.

While Denver has struggled defensively on the road, its offense hasn’t fared nearly as poorly.

One of the reasons has been the improvement of Michael Porter Jr. from distance. Porter is shooting 48.9 percent from beyond the arc after shooting 41.9 percent in his first three seasons.

“Fifty percent (from) three, to me, is not an unrealistic number,” Porter said.

Denver hopes to get Bones Hyland back after the reserve guard missed Sunday’s game with a left-hip strain.

Hyland was a full participant in Tuesday’s practice.

The Thunder appear to be at their healthiest this season after getting Josh Giddey back for Tuesday’s win after he missed three games due to an ankle injury. Rookie Jalen Williams, who missed the first matchup with the Nuggets after suffering a fractured orbital bone in the season opener, also recently returned.

Thursday’s game will be the second in a stretch in which Denver will play 10 of 13 games on the road.

Jokic recorded 19 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists in the first meeting with Oklahoma City.

The game will mark the end of a stretch for the Thunder in which five of six games are at home.

–Field Level Media