2011 NBA Playoffs: 5 Keys to Nuggets vs. Thunder Game 3

Tyler TinsleyContributor IIIApril 23, 2011

2011 NBA Playoffs: 5 Keys to Nuggets vs. Thunder Game 3

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 17: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates a three-point shot against the Denver Nuggets in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 17, 2011 at the Ford Center in Oklah
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The wild west shootout involving two of the West's most athletic teams heads to the Rocky Mountains Saturday night.  The Oklahoma City Thunder held serve in the first two games of the Western Conference match up and will now have to battle it out in enemy territory.  The Denver Nuggets return home after a tough Game 1 loss and Game 2 blowout, which saw OKC put the game away early.

    It remains to be seen if the Denver can get back into the series with the help of their home crowd. The Pepsi Center will undoubtedly be rocking on Saturday night for what will be the first playoff home game for the revamped, "Carmelo-less" Nuggets.

    Here are five keys to Game 3 between the Nuggets and Thunder.   

Home Court Advantage

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 17: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder dunks the ball after a turnover against the Denver Nuggets in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 17, 2011 at the Ford Center in
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Home court advantage is notoriously huge for both of these squads.  

    Oklahoma City Arena (formerly the Ford Center) and the Pepsi Center are both known for raucous playoff crowds that give both of their teams tremendous uplift during this time of the year.  This was surely the case in Games one and two as Oklahoma City fans came out in full force to support their crew.  The noise and rowdiness had an impact on the play of the Nuggets, causing turnovers and miscommunication.  

    Will the Pepsi Center have the same impact tonight?  Based on past playoff games in the Mile High City, most would believe so.       

J.R. Smith

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    DENVER, CO - MARCH 23:  J.R. Smith #5 of the Denver Nuggets celebrates after scoring against the San Antonio Spurs to give the Nuggets their first lead of the game 99-98 in the fourth quarter at the Pepsi Center on March 23, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Will J.R. Smith show up for the rest of the series?  

    The Nugget's guard did not remain quiet after a Game 2 blowout in OKC, stating that he was unhappy with playing time and predicting a high likelihood that he would not remain with the team after this season.  

    The Nuggets could surely use his offensive skills if George Karl decides to play him.  However, as Karl stated after Game 2, Smith posted a mind boggling minus 17 rating on the floor.  It remains to be seen if he can have a solid impact in this series.    

First Quarter Performance

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 20: Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets drives to the basket against Kendrick Perkins #5 and Russell Westbrook #0 both of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on Ap
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The Nuggets got off to a terrific first quarter start in Game 1 and nearly pulled off the "upset" in the end (possibly would have barring a missed goaltending call at the end).  

    OKC tore Denver to shreds during the first quarter of Game 2, leading 31-15 after one, and ended up blowing out their Western Conference foes.  

    Who has the better first quarter could play a huge role in determining who wins Game 3.  

OKC'S Superstars

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    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 16:  Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrate after a 3 pointer during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on March 16, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ack
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been huge for OKC in this series.  

    After nearly carrying their squad to victory in Game 1 with a collective 72 points, both have tremendous games in Game 2, but also received more support from others including James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and, Eric Maynor.

    KD and RW will both have to have huge games to combat a hostile crowd and hyped up Denver team in Game 3 to keep the Thunder in it.  

Nene

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 03:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets looks for an outlet pass against Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on April 3, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Nene has arguably been the Nuggets best player in two games during this series.  

    His presence in the post, on offense and defense, has given the Thunder trouble and should have a huge impact on Game 3 in Denver.  He will continue to pound the ball inside and use his 6' 11" frame to beat up on Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.  

    His production will be crucial for a Denver victory in Game 3.