Thunder-Nuggets Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 19, 2013
A stunning performance by Kevin Durant caused Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle to call the Oklahoma City Thunder forward "the best shooter on the planet." That's praise Russell Westbrook will likely never receive, but the point guard has been the Thunder's best shooter of late. Durant and Westbrook will try to lead NBA-leading Oklahoma City to a seventh consecutive win and second over Denver in five days Sunday. Named an All-Star starter the day before, Durant scored a career-high 52 points in a 117-114 overtime win over Dallas on Friday. He went 13 of 31 from the field, 5 of 9 from 3-point range and hit all 21 of his free throws. Durant's previous high was 51 points in a 124-118 OT victory over Denver on Feb. 19. He's averaged 37.6 points and 52.9 percent shooting in the last five contests. "It's more about the win for me," Durant said. "I was excited at the way we played ... We just kept fighting and we got a good win on the road." The Thunder (32-8) have won four in a row away from home as they open a season-high six-game trip. They may have a good chance to extend that run with another big game from Durant along with one from Westbrook, who's shot 54.3 percent from the field while scoring 31 or more in each of the last three games. Westbrook had 16 of his 32 points in the first quarter of a 117-97 home win over Denver (24-18) on Wednesday. Durant and Kevin Martin finished with 20 apiece to help the Thunder win for the sixth time in eight matchups with their Northwest Division rival. The Nuggets figured they would rebound after Oklahoma City ended their six-game win streak, but they limp into this contest following a 112-108 loss to league-worst Washington on Friday. Opening a stretch of eight of nine at Denver, the Nuggets fell for just the third time in 18 home games. "Our defense never responded, our big men never responded and the personality of the game is very similar to (games against) Minnesota, Orlando, Cleveland, and Golden State (earlier this month)," coach George Karl said. "All those games had similar personalities of not having enough effort, not having enough serious basketball." The Nuggets are among the league leaders in rebounds with 45.6 per game, but they were outrebounded by 11 against the Wizards. Oklahoma City had 53 boards Friday with Serge Ibaka grabbing 14, including seven of the team's season high-tying 18 on the offensive end. Ibaka had five points, six rebounds and five blocks Wednesday after missing the previous two games with a chest contusion. "He's going to continue to keep getting rebounds and keeping balls alive for us on the offensive glass," Durant told the Thunder's official website. The Nuggets need that from rebounding leader Kenneth Faried, who has seen his average drop to 9.9 with eight total in the last two games. Denver has 38 assists and 35 turnovers in those contests, with Ty Lawson giving the ball away a team-high nine times. "We're definitely disappointed," Lawson told the Nuggets' official website Friday after scoring 27 of his 29 points after halftime. "... We have a film session to figure out the things we're doing wrong. Hopefully we have a good showing against OKC on Sunday."
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