How much respect are the Nuggets getting going into the playoffs? Well, the NBA.com video recap of last night's key victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder (it's on view below) is dominated by great OKC plays, including Kevin Durant's epic posterizing of JaVale McGee. But if the Nugs can take care of biz tonight, they'll give themselves a chance to make some postseason racket.
As we noted in a post earlier this week, the Nuggets needed to beat the Thunder in order to avoid being beaten by them in the playoffs. The explanation: The Nugs had to take their last two games, versus the Thunder Wednesday and the Timberwolves tonight, to lock up the sixth seed and a matchup against the third-seeded and very mortal Los Angeles Lakers (more on that later). A loss in either contest, and they'd likely be seeded seventh and face the Thunder, who their odds of besting in a series are about as steep as the Grand Canyon, with fewer footholds.
Why? After all, OKC plays the same kind of run-and-gun style as Denver, which helps prevent their games from bogging down into half-court, one-on-one slugfests that tend to make the Nugs look inept. But at position after position, the Thunder's skill players are simply better than those on the Nuggets, and pretty much every other team in the league as well, with the possible exception of the Miami Heat.
As such, Nugs fans entered the game hoping Thunder coach Scott Brooks would rest his starters, since OKC couldn't move up in the standings. But no: With Durant in a battle for the scoring title, he played KD plenty, and kept stars like Russell Westbrook on the floor for big minutes as well. And the Thunder performed as if they cared about victory -- a good indication of their focus going into the postseason.
In the end, though, the Nuggets wanted the win more, for obvious reasons -- and they managed to accomplish this task thanks to oversized performances by Ty Lawson (he scored 25) and Kenneth Faried (13 points and ten huge boards). Hard to imagine why George Karl kept Faried on the bench for much of the season's first half; if he'd played the whole time, imagine how fierce the Manimal would be by now.
As for Chris "Birdman" Andersen, who's seen so little of the hardwood lately that Denver Stiffs published a goodbye piece about him even though he's still on the squad, he racked up another DNP: Coach's Decision.
The sixth seed doesn't belong to the Nuggets yet: They've got to defeat the Timberwolves tonight -- and given that Kevin Love is sitting this one out, they have no excuse for failing to do so, even though the game's on the road.
If they leave Minnesota with a W, the Lakers await, sans Metta World Peace (aka the Man Formerly Known as Ron Artest), who's been suspended for the first six games of the playoffs for a vicious elbow to the head of James Harden -- the one key OKC component who missed last night's contest. That should be a big benefit for the Nugs, who will have a fighting chance to win the physical battle with MWP out.
Does that mean they've got a shot in the series? Doubt it, due mainly to that walking/talking embodiment of will, Kobe Bryant. But neither is such a scenario entirely out of the question...as it would be against the Thunder.
Here's the aforementioned game recap, followed by a focus on Durant's facial on McGee.
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