By Friday afternoon, players and coaches from both the Thunder and Nuggets were well-aware that teams with a 2-0 lead in a playoff series have won 94 percent of the time, but no one dared put any stock into it.
The Nuggets couldn't in order to remain confident. The Thunder couldn't in order to avoid getting too comfortable entering Game 3 on Saturday night.
“It means absolutely nothing because that's history,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “That's not our team. That's not our series. The most important thing is just focusing on the next game. I know it's out there, but it has no bearing on what we feel and how we think and how it will impact this series.”
Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin said media members overreact to such statistics. “Of course, because y'all are caught up in numbers and history and the way series have gone in the past,” Martin said. “That's all y'all guys do. Y'all love numbers. We play basketball. All we got to do is go out and get Game 3. That's all we're concerned about.”
Denver guard Arron Afflalo returns to the lineup for Game 3 after missing the first two playoff games with a strained hamstring.
Afflalo is expected to defend Russell Westbrook, possibly Kevin Durant, or both.
However, Brooks said his team will not try to exploit an injured player.
“You just go at it hard,” Brooks said. “It's kind of like when they put a small guy on one of your bigger players. Some coaches attack the matchups.”
As a former 5-foot-11 point guard in the NBA, Brooks knows from which he speaks.
“Teams used to do that to me all the time,” Brooks said. “Some coaches would say, ‘Oh, we've got to take Brooks out.' But half the coaches would say, ‘No, we like that because now they've changed their way of playing. The best player is not getting the touches.' It's the player who doesn't score a lot now has to score a lot.”
If the 6-foot-5 Afflalo defends Westbrook, it would leave 5-foot-11 Ty Lawson or 6-foot-1 Raymond Felton to guard 6-foot-7 Thabo Sefolosha.
“If Lawson guards Thabo, we're not going to give Thabo 25 touches and say, ‘Go score,' “ Brooks said. “With Aflalo, it's not like we're going at him because of an injury. We're going at him because that's how we play.”
A BUMPY RIDE
Durant was glad to arrive in Denver on Thursday, but there was one problem.
“The only thing bad about it was the flight,” Durant said. “I was so scared on the flight (Thursday).”
A terrible bout with turbulence was the problem.
“It was bad. I shed a tear, I'll tell you that,” Durant said. “I thought we were going down.”
After holding Nuggets center Nene to 2-for-8 shooting in Game 2, the Thunder is seeking a repeat performance. The key is shoring up pick-and-roll defense and continuing to play Nene physically.
Brooks said the biggest focus is continuing to cut off easy layups by Nene, who is shooting roughly 60 percent from inside the paint and is just at 40 percent outside it. Nene also got 18 free throw attempts in Game 2, making 12. The Thunder is not OK with Nene living at the line, even if he's not converting.
“We really don't want to do that,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. “But at the same time, it's a no-layup rule. So you're going to try to contest it and do whatever it takes. You don't want to give up easy points. We definitely don't want to just keep sending him to the foul line. But he is an aggressive player.”
FEELING NO PAIN
Afflalo said he had a good workout Thursday and participated fully in Denver's practice Friday without feeling discomfort in either session. Afflalo ran with the first team Friday and is expected to start tonight.
“I thought that was pretty important because I want to come out and set the tone somewhat,” Afflalo said. “Those guys (the Thunder) have a lot of confidence and I don't like watching that.
“We're healthy now. It's no more excuses.”
“There's an art, there's a talent to putting the pieces back together. Humpty Dumpty was good.” — Denver coach George Karl, on the Nuggets overcoming adversity seemingly every year since he became coach seven seasons ago.