Now that the Denver Nuggets have cleared—or tripped over, as the case may be—the hurdle that is the Washington Wizards on Friday night, they will again be afforded the chance to get a win over their in-division rival, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Denver will host the reigning Western Conference champions on Sunday night for the first time this season in its biggest game of the quickly-maturing 2012-13 NBA league year.
And it’s not simply because it’s the next game.
While the previously 7-29 Wizards may have been a trap game for Denver, 32-8 Oklahoma City represents an obstacle that the Nuggets must overcome to stake any legitimate claim to conference dominance: primarily because they share the same division.
The Thunder are currently in first place in the Western Conference—and the only team above Denver in the standings (the L.A. Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors are the others) that the Nuggets haven’t already knocked off at home.
Denver hasn’t played the Thunder in the Mile-High City this season; the last time it beat OKC at home was its lone victory in the playoff series between the two following the 2010-11 season. It only got one crack at it in 2011-12.
That resulted in one of its 13 home losses.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have pushed OKC to a nine-game lead over the Nuggets in the Northwest division, rendering a second-half Denver surge to claim the division’s top seed unlikely.
An expected ceiling of the No. 4 seed in the West means that not only will the Nuggets have to increase their level of proficiency with regard to winning on the road, but that each home game becomes that much more important come April.
Chances are, they won’t get more than three of them in the conference semifinals; they can protect their Mile-High mystique by sweeping the Thunder in the Pepsi Center during the regular season. The second time that the two are scheduled to meet in Denver is Mar. 1, followed by a rematch in Oklahoma City on Mar. 19.
The Nuggets were just walloped in OKC, 117-97.
It would be most beneficial for Denver to not only win at home against the Thunder, but win convincingly in each of its two matchups with Durant and Co. If it can protect its home floor against all comers—in terms of the West’s elite—Denver will have an intangible confidence factor to go along with its home-court advantages of thin air and breakneck offensive pace.
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