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#4 Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) vs. #5 Denver Nuggets (50-32)

1st Round NBA Playoffs Prediction

4/17/11
 
Head coach George Karl feared the fourth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) as the first-round playoff opponent for his fifth-seeded Denver Nuggets (50-32), and rightfully so.  The Thunder could be the most dangerous team in the entire postseason field and dominated the Nuggets in the last two meetings of the regular season, which meant the most with seeding on the line for both teams.
 
Karl was outspoken in his desire to open up against the third-seeded Dallas Mavericks, but he did not get his wish.  Instead, Oklahoma City looms as the Western Conference's hottest team, winning 16 of 19 down the stretch before falling at home to Milwaukee 110-106 in overtime to close out the regular season.  The Thunder were 12-6-1 against the spread in those games, beating the likes of Denver, the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers on the road.
 
Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant was nearly unstoppable in the four regular-season meetings between the teams, averaging 31.5 points in leading his team to a 3-1 mark both straight-up and ATS.  Durant scored 44 in a 114-106 win back on December 25 and might be flying under the radar a bit, with what could be the best chance of any player in the postseason to dominate the opposition.
 
The Nuggets have not missed Carmelo Anthony much since dealing him to New York in a blockbuster trade, going 18-7 SU and 20-4-1 ATS.  But they could miss him immensely in this series because the only real way to slow down Durant is to make him use up some energy by playing defense.  In Denver's only win in the regular-season series, Anthony totaled a game-high 35 points while Durant was held to his lowest output of the four games with 22.
 
This team has been a great story with Karl earning major props as a potential Coach of the Year candidate, but the Thunder could be the worst possible opponent at the worst possible time.  An ankle injury to Denver point guard Ty Lawson also does not bode well, as Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook will test him and make him work very hard on defense.
 
The lethal combination of Durant and Westbrook will be a nightmare for the Nuggets, who simply do not have anybody to match up with either one of them.  Even if Lawson was healthy, he would struggle to defend the size and strength of Westbrook, the best combo guard in the West.
 
Series Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder (-210 at Bookmaker) in 4

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