Posted March 20, 2013

Three-Pointers: Nuggets beat Thunder, schedule to claim 13th straight win

Andre Miller, Ben Golliver, Denver Nuggets, Derek Fisher, Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City Thunder

By Ben Golliver

The Nuggets defeated the Thunder 114-104 in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, improving to 47-22 on the season. The Thunder dropped to 50-18.

• All hail Denver’s streak! The Nuggets’ surprising win carried the indelible feel of a statement game, which says something about both them and NBA observers. Denver proved it has some serious resolve, extending its winning streak to a franchise-record 13 games in the NBA’s third-toughest place to play (Oklahoma City was 30-4 at home entering Tuesday) on the second night of a road-road, back-to-back against two playoff teams, after escaping the Bulls in overtime Monday. As for NBA observers, we were reminded that we probably should be paying a little more attention to the Mile High City, even as the Heat’s record-setting run ensures that Denver’s streak will remain in the shadows until they lose.

Because of their insanely difficult early schedule, which was loaded with road games, the Nuggets were one of the easiest teams to forecast making a second-half push. Few teams play as well at home as the Nuggets, so it was a solid bet that they would surge as the home/road disparity evened out. That’s happened, and more. The Nuggets are 23-4 over the last two months, with no home losses since Jan. 16. Denver on Tuesday improved to 8-4 on the road during that stretch, a far cry from its 9-15 start away from the Pepsi Center this season.

Andre Miller had 20 points for the Nuggets in a surprise road win over the Thunder (Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)

Andre Miller had 20 points for the Nuggets in a surprise road win over the Thunder. (Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)

The quality has been as impressive as the quantity: Denver is 18-6 against teams on pace to make the Western Conference playoffs, having won its last eight such games. Tuesday’s victory was thorough: Denver ran up and down the court, won the rebounding battle, scored 72 points in the paint and outexecuted the Thunder down the stretch thanks to point guards Andre Miller and Ty Lawson, who combined for 17 of Denver’s final 25 points. Miller, who finished with 20 points and nine assists on his 37th birthday, was a particular problem, as he nearly single-handedly kept the Thunder at bay late in the game.

• Much like the Heat, the Nuggets have been commanding on both sides of the ball during their streak. That’s not necessarily what you would expect, given Denver’s run-and-gun reputation. This season, the Nuggets rank No. 3 in offensive efficiency (107.6 points per 100 possessions) and No. 11 in defensive efficiency (102.0 points per 100 possessions). During the streak, they’ve been elite on both ends. Over the last 13 games, Denver’s 111.6 offensive rating has been better than any team’s mark for the entirety of the season and its 98.6 defensive rating would rank No. 3, behind only Indiana and Memphis. Playing at that level for essentially a month straight is no accident. It’s not a matter of high-pace smoke and mirrors, given the quality of competition that the Nuggets have faced during this run.

The big question, of course: Where does this go for a Nuggets franchise that has advanced out of the first round just once since 1994? That’s a fair question not only because of the team’s recent history — three straight first-round eliminations — but also because the West is so ridiculously loaded that four other teams can claim similar elite levels of play at various points this season. San Antonio, the West’s No. 1 seed, had a 16-1 stretch in January and February; Oklahoma City won 12 in a row in November and December; the Clippers reeled off 17 consecutive victories in November and December; and the Grizzlies recently won 14 of 15 in February and March. Playing crème de la crème hoops is simply the rule, not the exception, in the West this season.

• Oklahoma City’s defense has crept into the top five in the NBA in efficiency, but you wouldn’t know it after watching the Thunder concede 114 points to Denver, the most they’ve allowed at home this year. This was a fairly out of character night.

Derek Fisher and Kevin Martin are the popular whipping boys on the defensive end, and for good reason. Digging into the on/off statistics for the Thunder’s players reveals that Oklahoma City puts up better defensive numbers when Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, Hasheem Thabeet and Reggie Jackson are on the court than when they are off. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka, meanwhile, all play meaningful rotation roles, with the Thunder performing even or roughly even on defense with or without them.

The weak links, as expected, are Martin and Fisher. The Thunder play at least five points per 100 possessions worse defensively with each of them on the court; in Fisher’s case, Oklahoma City’s defensive rating drops from an excellent 97.5 when he’s off the court to an abysmal 106.9 when he’s on the court. Small sample size applies, as he’s been with the Thunder for less than a month, but that is simply unsustainable for a team with championship aspirations. Oklahoma City’s offensive efficiency numbers with Fisher, meanwhile, have been very good, mitigating the impact of his defensive woes. There is additional reason for hope: The Thunder were actually better defensively with him on the court compared to off the court during the 2012 playoffs.

Looking ahead to the postseason, Martin’s defense, which sees the Thunder drop from 96.7 when he’s off the court to 101.9 when he’s on the court, will be the bigger issue, as the team will need his shooting to make life easier for Durant and Westbrook, who combined for 59 of Oklahoma City’s 104 points Tuesday. James Harden had a similar impact on Oklahoma City’s defensive numbers in 2011-12, so all isn’t necessarily lost, as long as Martin can deliver the goods on the other end.

14 comments
erussell715
erussell715

Pay a little more attention to the Mile High City?  Wow, THANK YOU; it's been a long time coming!  You also mentioned the few other WC teams that have put together impressive streaks this year, but I see the Spurs tiring a bit down the stretch, and the only two teams you mentioned with RECENT successful periods (MEM & DEN), and we just beat Memphis resoundingly.  Plus, the Nuggets own the tiebreakers on OKC, MEM and LAC, so if they can keep the intensity and defense up, paired with the ever-present explosive offense, there's no telling how high the Nugs could climb. I was watching the 1st half on the TVs at work during my shift at DISH. The 1st half was competitive at least, but when I got on the bus and turned on my iPad to watch the 2nd half I was happy the Nuggets came out strong and put a few points between the other guys.  My DISH Anywhere app lets me take my live TV and DVR anywhere I go (on Android & iOS devices), so I don't have to wait until I get home late to start the DVR!  I am so optimistic for the Nugs at this point; they may not be the best team or have the best pedigree in the playoffs, but NOBODY wants to play Denver right now!

Cherrie
Cherrie

Spurs, Nuggets, Heat --- anyone of these teams I'd love to win it all.

jsteppling
jsteppling

one third nuggets and 2 thirds thunder.......just interesting that the headline is "rising threat" on the front page. The thunder are a glamour team so i get it, but its also tiresome. The most interesting developement is that two small market teams....denver and memphis are the two hottest teams , not counting Spurs, in the west. Its not secret that big market teams get more ink.....Knicks, nets, clippers and lakers. But since lakers became a joke, that has tailed off a bit. Thunder have marketable stars, and Nuggets dont. Thats why its two third thunder.

jsteppling
jsteppling

this article went from being about Denver to being about OKC. Journalists are hopeless. Denver is for real and all that "no go-to guy" is proving to be the nonsense its always been. The go to guy is the one you go to that night. But if Lawson can keep playing this way (he wasnt so good at the start of the season) then the nuggets can beat anyone.

Cherrie
Cherrie

 @jsteppling In the NBA,  it is very difficult for small market teams or those with no SUPERSTARS(s) to advance in the playoffs. NBA officiating has always favored superstars, for ratings' sake, and that's what I HATE about the NBA. I just hope things would be different this season and that the Spurs, Nuggets, or the Grizz would be given a fair chance of advancing in the playoffs.  

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @jsteppling So your idea of journalism is to only write about one of the teams involved in a game, preferably the team that you like?

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@jsteppling

If you bother to notice, dude, the section on the Nuggets streak, the section on the Nuggets quality of play, and the section on the Thunder's defense are all clearly and deliberately separated by bullet-points.  

 

This article was obviously intended from the outset to be about both teams, as it's a post-game article discussing some topics prompted by the Nuggets-Thunder game's result, topics that involve both teams.  Untwist your panties.

 

jsteppling
jsteppling

 @Cherrie totally agree. One of the worst things to happen under Stern has been officiating. Mark Cuban is actually right about that.  Stern even said his ideal finals would be Lakers vs Lakers. Stern's mandate was make the league marketable and sadly that meant super stars, not good basketball. He hates the Spurs. If you look at scheduling, you see a perfect example....Griz, Nuggets, utah, .....have much tougher schedules than the Lakers or heat ...or even knicks. Its just the reality. --- The refs affect games with specific calls.....3 seconds, or illegal defense...stuff that could be called almost every play. The bias for LeBron these days is stunning. I mean he NEVER fouls. And the big stars...Durant, Melo, etc....if a defender is even close to them, they get a foul. It gets worse post season actually. I hope the new commissioner is better about this, but i have my doubts. Jordan used to get a huge advantage on calls, and now its Lebron. But this year might be the worst ever.

jsteppling
jsteppling

 @JoeCabot is english a second language for you Joe? I mean, go back and read whats written. SLOWLY ....thats my suggestion,

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @jsteppling  Most nitpickers tend to pay attention to detail, but you don't do so well in that regard.  The first six paragraphs in the article were all about the Nuggets, with the last four being about the Thunder.   Count the paragraphs, the words, get out a ruler and check the measurements, and you will find that more than half of the article was devoted to Denver.    All in all, plenty of good stuff was written about the Nuggets and deservedly so.  Enjoy it instead of turning it into a negative.

 

jsteppling
jsteppling

 @JoeCabot the point is really that Denver is hot, they deserve the analysis. The article is titled DENVER RISING.....and yet, two thirds is about a team that get s more ink that any other save the Heat. Small market teams are ignored. How many pieces you see about utah or Memphis or even golden state. ? Its a fraction of what the Thunder get. Spurs get comparetively less too.........much less. Thats the business part. But the hot team that warrants an analysis is denver. But if you think this is good journalism, they you are like most "fans".......who this corporate mags are actually serious about the sport. I read blogs for serious analysis. These guys get on bandwagons.....usually big market bandwagons like the Knicks earlier this season (nobody mentioned in those pieces the team is oldest in history and might have injury issues). Now they HAVE to mention denver.......but of course, mostly its about the thunder. Again, if that makes sense to you, fine. It doesnt to me.

jsteppling
jsteppling

 @JoeCabot the article on the front page is about denver's win streak. But in fact, as is usually the case, most of the article is devoted the team with stars. Now this was explained above. You can disagree, but at least read carefully or ...i dont know, maybe you dont do well with reading comprehension.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @jsteppling  I read the article and your post very, very slowly.  I still see the same thing: you are complaining because the author had the audacity to write about the Thunder after writing about the Nuggets.