Thunder-Nuggets Preview

The Associated Press

After starting their Rocky Mountain road trip by failing to stop one of the league's lowest-scoring teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder head to a higher altitude to face a recent offensive juggernaut.

Kevin Durant also has been outstanding on that end, posting an NBA season-high point total twice in the past week, though another such effort might not benefit the Thunder unless their defense improves Thursday night against the Denver Nuggets.

Having Serge Ibaka back would surely help after the two-time All-Defensive team member sat out Tuesday with flu-like symptoms as Oklahoma City lost 112-101 in Utah.

"We were missing one of the best presences at the rim, if not the best, in the league," guard Reggie Jackson said of Ibaka, averaging an NBA-high 3.1 blocks over the past 2 1/2 seasons. "He cleans up a lot of our mistakes."

The Thunder (27-8) made plenty of them defensively, getting an eight-game road winning streak snapped and allowing an opponent to hit more than half its field-goal attempts for the first time all season. The Jazz, who shot 58.8 percent, have the worst record and scoring average (92.9) in the Western Conference.

Durant had 48 points for the second time in three games - no other player has surpassed 45 this season - but the Thunder allowed more than 110 in two of them. None of their previous 15 opponents even reached 105.

"(I want to see) toughness and even more toughness and some fight," Durant told the team's official website after Oklahoma City trailed by as many as 24 against Utah. "We just have to stay together. We lost a basketball game on the road. It's not the end of the world. ... We just have to regroup and be better next game."

That may be tough against a Denver team averaging 125.7 points and shooting 53.1 percent during a three-game winning streak.

That run follows an eight-game skid which saw the Nuggets (17-17) average 93.5 points.

"Coach (Brian Shaw) let us hoop. He just let us get out and play," forward Kenneth Faried said. "He figured out that this altitude is a killer for teams and the personnel that we have is people who will get out and run, play great defense and it's fun when we do that instead of just calling plays all the time.

"... It has really helped and it got the burden off our back of wondering what he wants."

Faried has averaged 18.0 points on 20-of-29 shooting during the win streak after scoring 7.5 per game in his previous 12. Point guard Ty Lawson, meanwhile, has posted a season-best four consecutive double-doubles.

Randy Foye, averaging a career-low 9.6 points, has scored in double figures in six straight and had a season-best 23 points with seven 3-pointers Tuesday in a 129-98 win over Boston.

"I told him, 'You're getting wide open shots. All you've got to do is set your feet and knock 'em down,'" Lawson said. "That's what he's been working on, getting his shot right. He's been showing improvement and now he's making everybody better. And for us to win like we want to win, he has to knock down shots."

Durant has knocked down plenty against the Nuggets, averaging 34.0 points in the last three meetings. Oklahoma City has won both this season as Russell Westbrook averaged 25.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists, but he's out following knee surgery and the Thunder are 4-3 without him.

Ibaka had 17 points and 10 boards in a 105-93 win at Denver on Dec. 17 in the last matchup.

Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler could sit out after straining his groin Tuesday.

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