DENVER — Kevin Durant has never won inside the Pepsi Center.
It's one of only four venues in which the Thunder's star still hasn't defeated the home team.
But if Durant wants to see his team hang onto fourth place in the Western Conference, he might want to make it a point to mark off the Mile High City from his list Tuesday night.
Suddenly, the Thunder is in a tight race with Denver for the fourth seed in the playoffs. At stake for the winner of said race is the Northwest Division crown and home-court advantage in the first round.
The Thunder takes a three-game lead into Tuesday's game, but the Nuggets are red hot, having won their last six, including a gutsy win Sunday against an even hotter Los Angeles Lakers team inside Staples Center.
Then there's this. The franchise hasn't won at Denver since March 28, 2007.
Kevin Durant had just finished his freshman season at the University of Texas. Thunder forward Nick Collison is the only player remaining from the team that last won in Denver.
“I hope we get the first one. But it's no added pressure,” Durant said confidently.
After a 14-2 month of March, it seemed certain that the Thunder would be the fourth seed. Then OKC lost at Portland last Friday night. Then at the Los Angeles Clippers the next night. Meanwhile, the Nuggets have gone 15-4 since trading Carmelo Anthony to New York. Now, things are a little murky.
“That team is playing very, very well,” Durant said. “They're very hot since the trade. We got to bring our A game. It's tough to play them there. But we'll be all right.”
The Thunder's losing streak at Denver has stretched to seven games, and the margin of defeat, a whopping 19.2 points, hasn't even been close. If the Thunder loses Tuesday, Denver will pull within two games with one final matchup between the two teams set for Friday in Oklahoma City.
“We're very concerned,” Durant said. “They're doing a great job of closing out games up there in Denver and kind of shortening the margin between us two. But we play them twice and it's going to be big games for us.”
Both teams will have five games remaining following Tuesday's contest. In addition to the rematch Friday, the Thunder will play the Clippers back inside Oklahoma City Arena on Wednesday, at the Lakers on Sunday — another opponent Durant hasn't defeated on the road (Milwaukee and Orlando are the other two) — at Sacramento on April 11 and at home against Milwaukee on April 13. Denver's other four games are at Dallas, at home against Minnesota and Golden State and a regular-season finale at Utah.
“We know how important all these games are,” said Collison, who scored 16 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in a game-high 43 minutes the last time the franchise won in Denver. “We know how important it is to get home court. With that being said, we also know that the best way of doing that is to just focus on the next game at hand.”
The Nuggets own the league's third-best home record at 31-7. Denver is 9-0 at home since trading Anthony, with four of those wins coming against Memphis, Boston, Atlanta and San Antonio, all teams headed toward the playoffs.
The challenge for the Thunder will be to contain a Nuggets offense that has seamlessly transitioned from having one star dominate as a scorer to one that now boasts eight players that can dump in 15 to 20 points on any given night.
The Nuggets have averaged only one fewer point since the trade but have held teams to 7.9 fewer points. Denver also has improved its rebounding by four per game, while upping its assists by an average of 3.4 and its steals by 2.2 per game post-Anthony.
“We've been playing great together thus far,” said Nuggets point guard Raymond Felton. “We're playing great together as a unit offensively and defensively. But I think the main thing is our defense has been great. We've been helping each other, keeping guys in front of us (and) rebounding when we're supposed to.”
Needless to say, Tuesday night will be tough for the Thunder. But OKC is hoping for the best.
“Hopefully we win the division and get the fourth spot or move up maybe,” Durant said.