DENVER — After the freakish ending against Houston on Tuesday night, when the Thunder blew an 11-point lead at home in the final 2½ minutes, what OKC needed was a sense of normalcy.
The Thunder needed something to tilt its existence back on the axis that helped make it the best team in the Western Conference.
It arrived Thursday night at Denver with the return of guard Thabo Sefolosha to the starting lineup after missing 23 games with a sore right foot. His mere presence gave OKC more of a defensive mindset and also allowed struggling bombardier Daequan Cook to rejoin the second unit.
The end result was a convincing 103-90 victory over the Nuggets before a crowd of 18,458 at the Pepsi Center.
Not only was it important for the Thunder to win and erase Tuesday's embarrassingly uncharacteristic loss to the Rockets, it was important for OKC to win in convincing fashion.
“Oh, definitely,” Sefolosha said. “We played really well tonight. I just tried to bring what I've been bringing. It was a feel-good victory for us, getting back on track, playing the right way and playing at our own pace.”
Sefolosha played only 12 minutes and had just three points and one assist, but moving back to the second unit obviously agreed with Cook, who confidently buried three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in 16 minutes.
“It felt comfortable out there,” Cook admitted. “There's a comfort level out there playing with the second unit and getting back to the regular routine.”
Beating the Nuggets has become routine for the Thunder, which has beaten Denver nine of the last 11 meetings dating back to last season and including the first round of last year's playoffs.
Also routine is bouncing back and not losing consecutive games. OKC is now 9-1 after a loss this season and 29-7 after a loss the last two seasons.
The Thunder essentially beat Denver with three players on Feb. 19, winning 124-118 in overtime behind 51 points from Kevin Durant, 40 points from Russell Westbrook and a triple-double (15 rebounds, 14 points and 11 blocked shots) from Serge Ibaka.
It marked the first time in NBA history a team had a 50-point scorer, a 40-point scorer and a triple-double from a third player in the same game.
Durant finished with 27 fewer points, Westbrook had 18 fewer points and Ibaka had a triple-single with five points, three rebounds and three blocks, but the Thunder locker room was all smiles afterward.
“It feels good for us to get a nice road win by a lot of points, man,” said Durant, who had 24 points and eight assists. “This Denver team is tough to stop, especially in this building, but I think we came out with that sense of urgency early on.”
Thunder reserve guard James Harden had 18 points and was 4 for 6 from 3-point range, but might have been happier for Cook, who was sitting at the locker room stall next to his.
“I definitely missed Daequan in that second unit – the DC sniper,” Harden said with a smile. “He was knocking down 3s, making the second unit feel comfortable.”
Denver was playing without center Nene', who was traded earlier in the day to the Washington Wizards in exchange for centers JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf and a future second-round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers.
“We knew they were going to play with a little bit of a heavy heart with Nene' getting traded,” Durant said. “We just wanted to come out and jump on them from the beginning and take advantage and I think we did a great job.”