Whether they meet in the first round of the playoffs or not, it was clear on Tuesday that the Thunder and Nuggets hold each other in high regard.
Both team's coaches gushed over the other's talent and the job each has done in getting the most out of their respective rosters.
“They are a great young team, and we are trying to prove that we are a good young team,” said Denver coach George Karl.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks returned the pleasantries.
“They're a good team,” Brooks said. “They defend you. They rebound the ball. They pass the ball. And they get out in transition and shoot 3s. They've got a lot of talented players and they're tough to match up against.”
Brooks, who served as an assistant under Karl, was not surprised that the Nuggets entered Tuesday's game 15-4 since trading Carmelo Anthony to New York. Many observers thought the Nuggets would tank and miss the playoffs.
“The guy is a winner,” Brooks said of Karl. “He's a fighter. He competes. What he's done with his health issues has been amazing to come back and do what he's able to do and fight back through his son's health issues. You can just tell the guy has no quit in him and the team doesn't. They're a fun team to watch.”
MOHAMMED PLAYING WITH STITCHES
Center Nazr Mohammed played Tuesday night with four stitches above his right eye after taking a shot to the head Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers. Mohammed had to leave the game against the Clippers to receive the stitches and did not return.
Mohammed said the sutures haven't impaired his vision and haven't been a problem.
“It's all right. It's just a couple of stitches,” Mohammed said. “I didn't get hit hard. It's nothing really.”
Mohammed has required stitches above his left eye in the past, and he said he's dealt with various other scratches, scrapes and cuts above and around his eyes.
“If you've played long enough and you don't have any cuts, you're either extremely lucky or you're not playing hard,” Mohammed said. “You're going to get hit sooner or later, especially with us big guys down there.”
Whatever the outcome Tuesday night at Denver, the Thunder needed to know it could play well against the Nuggets inside the Pepsi Center, according to Mohammed. With these two teams potentially meeting in the first round of the playoffs, the Thunder's goal was to use these final two regular-season games against the Nuggets to build confidence, Mohammed said.
“It's not just wins and losses,” Mohammed said. “It's about how you play and if you're able to do the things you know you're capable of doing. That's definitely great for you mentally going into a series if we wind up playing them.”
Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov left the game late in the first quarter after sustaining a left knee and ankle sprain following a collision under the basket. … Kendrick Perkins and Nene were whistled for double technical fouls for a brief altercation with 22 seconds remaining in the second quarter. It was Perkins' ninth technical foul of the season. … The Nuggets outscored the Thunder 31-21 in the second quarter. OKC had five turnovers leading to eight points in the period … The Nuggets didn't take their first lead of the game, at 59-58, until 5:13 was left in the third quarter.
“I would think they would be a little scared of us,” — Denver forward Al Harrington on the Thunder possibly facing the Nuggets in the playoffs.