Woodward, Okla. —
By Michael Kinney
CNHI News Service
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Denver Nuggets were riding their longest winning streak of the season when they strolled into Oklahoma City on Wednesday. They were expected to provide a battle for the top team in the Western Conference.
Instead, the Nuggets got a lesson in just how big the gap is between them and the Thunder. Oklahoma City dismantled Denver 117-97 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“We didn’t have a good offensive game, we didn’t have a good defensive game,” Denver coach George Karl said. “We didn’t have a good energy game. They seemed to be the hungry team from the very beginning. You are playing maybe the best team in basketball. They played with a high level of commitment and they wanted to kick our butts. And they did.”
Denver (24-17) saw its run of wins end at six games, and the Nuggets dropped eight games behind Oklahoma City (31-8) in the Northwest Division standings.
Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 32 points on 12-for-20 shooting, his second consecutive 30-plus point outing. Kevin Durant had a quiet 20 points to go along with five steals and four assists. Neither played in the fourth quarter. Kevin Martin came off the Thunder bench to chip in 20 points.
“We just try to play up to our level,” Durant said. “We have a level we want to reach every single game. It’s the Thunder way of basketball. Guys are buying in. If you have a team full of guys that buy in, then anything can happen. I learned that from Ray Lewis.”
Kosta Koufos paced the Nuggets with 16 points and nine rebounds. Reserve center JaVale McGee contributed 15 points and three blocked shots for Denver. Other than that, Oklahoma City shut down one of the league’s top scoring offenses.
“I think we did a good job defensively,” Westbrook said. “It showed from the start of the game. I thought we did a great job of getting back in transition.”
The Thunder started the night off slicing up the Nuggets’ defense. Denver looked like a team playing the second night of back-to-back games, which it was, and Oklahoma City took advantage with ball movement and dribble and isolation plays.
Westbrook led the charge, scoring 16 points to give Oklahoma City a 34-18 advantage after one quarter.
As efficient as the Thunder’s offense was, the Nuggets were just as lackluster. Koufos was the only Denver player who had any energy whatsoever. The rest of the squad sleepwalked through the entire first half, and the Nuggets trailed 67-47 at halftime.
Denver never got the deficit above 17 in second half, as the Oklahoma City bench of Reggie Jackson, DeAndre Liggins, Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb kept the defense rolling. All four players have seen time on the franchise’s D-League team, the Tulsa 66ers.
With its own five-game winning streak in hand, Oklahoma City now hits the road for 14 days on its longest road trip of the season. Despite the Thunder’s recent success, Durant doesn’t expect his team to slow down any time soon.
“We’re greedy,” Durant said. “In this league you have to be greedy. Just as quickly as you can win four or five in a row, you can lose four or five in a row. We know we can never be complacent and that’s the best part about our team.”
Woodward, Okla. —
By Michael Kinney
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