Thunder-Nuggets Preview

Russell Westbrook made history Friday in a loss to the Phoenix Suns. He and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder can do the same to the Nuggets' playoff hopes in Denver on Sunday afternoon.

Westbrook's history-making moment happened when he collected his sixth assist on a bucket by Victor Oladipo. It gave the guard enough total assists to average a triple-double for an entire season, joining Oscar Robertson's feat established in 1962.

While Westbrook downplayed the accomplishment, it strengthens his case to be the MVP and he can set his sights on another mark -- the most triple-doubles in one season. He is tied with Robertson with 41 and 42 can come against the playoff-hopeful Nuggets. If he does reach it Sunday, it's not a good sign for Denver. The Thunder are 32-9 when he records at least 10 points, rebounds and assists.

Westbrook's incredible season has led Oklahoma City (45-34) to the postseason after Kevin Durant left for Golden State in the offseason. Former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Doug Collins said Westbrook's competitiveness is comparable to Michael Jordan's.

"I know there's nights, as much energy as he's got, he's got to show up and maybe feel like he doesn't have it," Collins told The Oklahoman. "But he finds a way to do it. That's what I said about Michael Jordan when I coached Michael. I saw games where I said, 'Where's the energy going to come from?' The thought of performing and doing it, he always found a way.

"That's why I think Russell has so much respect around the league and from a lot of the former players. Playing 82 games used to be sort of a badge of courage, and I understand all the rest and stuff that goes with it. But Michael Jordan played 82 games when he was 40 years old for me at Washington. He was the only guy who played 82 games. The great ones, they love to play."

Stopping him will be Denver's biggest task in the hope of keeping its shrinking playoff dreams alive. The Thunder, meanwhile, have sewn up the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

For the Nuggets to reach the playoffs, they need to have everything go their way. After Portland's win over Utah on Saturday night, the Trail Blazers (40-40) are 1 1/2 games ahead of Denver and need just one win in their last two games or a Nuggets loss to clinch the eighth and final playoff seed. Denver (38-41) could win out but still be out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year if Portland doesn't lose.

After Friday's impressive win over New Orleans, the Nuggets aren't conceding anything until they're eliminated.

"We're still alive and we're going to fight and fight and fight until they tell us to go home," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the 122-106 win over the Pelicans. "It's funny, we lose a game in Charlotte and everybody is ready to say we're done. We're not done."

Denver hasn't been in the playoffs since 2013 and this is the first season since it has a chance in the final weeks to get there. The emergence of center Nikola Jokic and the play of young guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have kept the Nuggets in the race.

"I just feel like if we win out and just take care of ourselves, that's all we can do," Harris said Friday. "Just control what we can control and try to win out."

The key will be controlling Westbrook. In two games against Denver, he is averaging 34 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists, both Thunder victories. Another one Sunday and the Nuggets will be making lottery plans instead of preparing for the playoffs.

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