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Preview: Nuggets at Thunde

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Oklahoma City Thunder and their fans breathed a sigh of relief on Sunday when it was announced that an MRI on Russell Westbrook’s right knee showed no structural damage. The Thunder will still proceed cautiously with the star point guard and could leave him on the bench when they host the Denver Nuggets on Monday. Oklahoma City has been sitting Westbrook on back-to-backs since his latest return from knee surgery and plays at Dallas on Tuesday.

The Thunder are two games behind the streaking San Antonio Spurs in the race for the top spot in the Western Conference and will play four of the next five at home before finishing up the regular season with six of eight on the road. The Nuggets come in strong with five wins in the last seven games and have knocked off playoff teams Miami, Washington and the Los Angeles Clippers in that span. Denver is enduring its own injury issues after losing J.J. Hickson (knee) for the rest of the season but got 52 points off the bench in Sunday’s win over the Wizards to make up for the loss.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, Altitude (Denver), FSN Oklahoma (Oklahoma City)

ABOUT THE NUGGETS (32-38): Denver gave Jan Vesely extra minutes without Hickson around in Sunday’s 105-102 win and got a big lift from Darrell Arthur with 15 points off the bench. Randy Foye is enjoying a hot streak from beyond the arc and has knocked down 15-of-29 from 3-point range in the last three games to help extend the offense. The Nuggets are no longer a part of the playoff race in the West but can have a big impact on the seeding above them with games against contenders San Antonio (two), Memphis (two), Golden State (two), Houston (two) and the Clippers in addition to the Thunder.

ABOUT THE THUNDER (51-18): Westbrook has undergone three surgeries on his right knee since initially injuring it during the 2013 playoffs and had to be helped to the locker room after Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry accidentally jumped into the side of the knee on Friday. Kevin Durant, as usual, picked up the slack for his fallen teammate and finished with 51 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists while nailing the game-winning 3-pointer in a 119-118 double-overtime triumph over the Raptors. “I just tried to have positive thoughts and be a leader out there,” Durant told reporters. “I struggled early on but I just tried to stick with it and tried to go out and have fun.”

BUZZER BEATERS

1. The Nuggets secured a 101-88 home win over the Thunder with Westbrook out of the lineup on Jan. 9.

2. Denver F Wilson Chandler (groin) sat out Sunday’s game and is day-to-day.

3. Oklahoma City G Reggie Jackson went for 25 points and 12 rebounds while playing extended minutes on Friday and will get the starting nod if Westbrook sits out on Monday.

PREDICTION: Thunder 112, Nuggets 100

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