NBA Basketball

Nuggets set for showdown with rested Thunder

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Oklahoma City Thunder's three-day break couldn't have come at a better time.

They had two tough games on consecutive nights -- a thrilling double-overtime win against Utah on Friday night, followed by a close home loss to Sacramento.

Oklahoma City was a tired team after falling to the Kings, but it should be rested for a Northwest Division showdown at the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night that could make the race close or potentially put Denver far ahead with 22 games to go.

The Nuggets have won four straight and lead the Thunder by three games in the division. Denver has won the first two games of the season series, and another victory Tuesday would clinch the tiebreaker if it's needed at the end of the season.

What the Nuggets need to do Tuesday is slow down the Oklahoma City offense. The Thunder like to play fast and are averaging 116.0 points per game.

"That's where we thrive, when we have chances to score and strike fast," forward Paul George said after the 119-116 loss to the Kings. "That's to our advantage."

Despite their high scoring average, the Thunder have struggled in two games against Denver this season. The Nuggets held the Thunder to 98 points each time, the first in Oklahoma City on Nov. 24.

Oklahoma City has failed to score at least 100 points only once since the last loss to Denver on Dec. 14 and is coming off a weekend of big numbers. The Thunder scored 148 in a one-point win against the Jazz.

The Nuggets counter with one of the best scoring defenses in the league, allowing 106.8 points per game. They also have their best perimeter defender back in Gary Harris, who returned following the All-Star break after missing seven games with a right adductor strain.

Harris, who didn't play in the first two games between the teams, could make things harder for Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who is coming off a 41-point, 10-rebound performance against Sacramento. He has 128 points in the past three games.

The Nuggets have plugged holes this season while Harris, Will Barton and Paul Millsap were out at various times; all three are now making an impact.

Millsap helped fuel Denver's 123-96 blowout win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday with 21 points, 16 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

"Millsap found the fountain of youth or something," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game. "He is playing like a young Paul Millsap. He is flying out there."

Denver, as a whole, is flying. The Nuggets are 20-7 since late December and are challenging Golden State for the top seed in the Western Conference. Denver still has two games left with the Warriors -- both in Oakland.

The Nuggets aren't worried about Golden State yet. If they take care of business Tuesday night, they can put themselves in control of the division with six weeks left in the regular season.

"We are coming out and doing what we set out to do," Millsap said Sunday. "We are going to continue to try to compound wins as much as we can."

--Field Level Media

Updated February 26, 2019

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