The Oklahoma City Thunder took a major step toward winning the Northwest Division title in Denver earlier this week, then clinched it before the Nuggets had an opportunity to avenge that defeat.
In another week, Denver might get a far more meaningful chance for revenge.
A Nuggets win in Oklahoma City on Friday would all but lock up the Western Conference’s fifth seed and put them in line to begin the playoffs on the road against the Thunder.
Oklahoma City (52-26) held a three-game lead on Denver heading into the Pepsi Center on Tuesday, yet with two games over the season’s final nine days against a Nuggets team that had won six in a row, there was plenty of time for that to change.
But Kevin Durant(notes) had 32 points in a 101-94 victory that put the Thunder within a win of clinching the Northwest. One night later, Durant scored 29 as Oklahoma City wrapped up its first division title since moving from Seattle by beating the Los Angeles Clippers 112-108.
“Of course the first one means a lot, especially after a few seasons I’ve been through since I’ve been in this league,” Durant said, referring to the teams that won a combined 43 games his first two seasons. “It’s a big turnaround for us, but we’ve just got to move past it.”
The Thunder can’t finish any lower than fourth in the West, but if they keep winning, the third spot might be in reach. Dallas has lost four in a row, leaving Oklahoma City a game behind the Mavericks.
“We’ve got goals at hand. When you have bigger goals, you tend to reach smaller goals,” Perkins said. “I guess that was a good thing to see the guys not comfortable. Our guys want to go a little further than just being division champs.”
If the Thunder can’t catch Dallas, they’ll likely see a familiar opponent in the first round. If Denver (48-30) can win at Oklahoma City, it will move within one victory of wrapping up the No. 5 slot.
Whichever team the Nuggets wind up facing has plenty of reason to be concerned. Denver bounced back from Tuesday’s loss by winning 104-96 at Dallas on Wednesday, its seventh victory in eight games.
“Everybody’s starting to come together after the moves we made,” said forward Kenyon Martin(notes), averaging 16.0 points in April. “No better time than now to start playing your best basketball. You don’t want to go into the playoffs limping.”
If Denver hopes to have any success Friday - or in a potential playoff meeting - it likely needs to figure out a way to contain Durant. He had 44 points in the first home meeting with the Nuggets, a 114-106 win on Christmas, and had 11 in the final 7:19 on Tuesday to help the Thunder hold on.
In a 112-107 road loss Jan. 19, though, Durant was held to 22 points on 6-of-18 shooting.
Denver hopes Arron Afflalo(notes) (strained hamstring) returns Friday after missing seven of the last eight games, but perhaps more important is another solid effort from Ty Lawson(notes). The Nuggets’ point guard has averaged 19.3 points against the Thunder, including a season-high 28 earlier this week.