The last time the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets played at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Kevin Durant scored a career-high 51 points, Russell Westbrook added 40 points and Serge Ibaka put together a 14-point, 15-rebound, 11-block triple-double as the Oklahoma City Thunder knocked off the Denver Nuggets 124-118 in OT. They couldn't quite match the insanity of that game in their head-to-head rematch on Wednesday night, and it was at least in part because the incentives have changed for OKC since then. Denver won 106-101, but nearly everyone left the arena in a good mood anyways.
The Thunder were already locked into the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, while the Nuggets were fighting to avoid OKC in the first round by hanging on to the sixth slot at the expense of the Dallas Mavericks. OKC even held the NBA Finals tiebreaker over the Miami Heat by virtue of a better cross-conference record going into the contest, so the only motivation was to build a cushion for Kevin Durant over Kobe Bryant in the NBA scoring title race. Durant led all scorers with 32 points on 12-23 shooting and now Kobe needs to score 38 points or more on Thursday night against the Sacramento Kings in an otherwise meaningless game for the Lakers (who are already locked into the No. 3 seed).
As for the Nuggets, they repaid the oddity of that 51-40-triple-double game back on Feb. 19 with a lesser brand of quirkiness. Denver shot inferior percentages from the field (44.4 vs. 49.4), beyond the arc (34.8 vs. 41.7) and from the free throw line (60 vs. 86.7), but it still pulled out a road victory over one of the top teams in the NBA. It had a lot to do with good ball protection -- the Nuggets had just 10 turnovers, while OKC had 18 -- and some gritty offensive rebounding by rookie big man Kenneth Faried.
The No. 22 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft ran the court enthusiasm, fought hard for every inch of rebounding position and even sprinkled in a couple first-quarter jumpers on his way to a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double. He also sparked a 17-11 advantage on the offensive glass by grabbing six of his own, which helped the Nuggets overcome the shooting disparities across the board. Even so, Thunder TV play-by-play man Brian Davis still had it exactly correct when he noted that Faried "shoots free throws like he doesn't have opposable thumbs." He finished the game 1-7 from the line, which was the only blemish on in his box score section.
Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka combined for 77 points on 55.8 percent shooting (29-52 FGs), but they were the only Thunder players to score in double figures. Meanwhile, the Nuggets countered with seven players at or above that same threshold. Ty Lawson (25), Arron Afflalo (15), Danilo Gallinari (14), Faried (13), Al Harrington (10), Corey Brewer (10) and Javale McGee (10) spread the scoring load well and only Afflalo and Lawson back-loaded their effort for the second half. That allowed Denver to build a 64-58 lead at the half, and Lawson's late burst of nine fourth-quarter points helped them reclaim the lead after a late surge from OKC.
With the Denver victory, Utah is locked into the No. 8 seed and the Nuggets will hold onto the No. 6 slot in the West unless they lose to the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Mavericks win on Thursday. As noted above, Kevin Durant will be the NBA scoring champion for the 2011-12 season unless Kobe Bryant scores 38 or more points against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night. In other news, James Harden was cleared by doctors to resume play but sat out anyways, a tightrope walker in the halftime show fell off the rope and injured his leg and Durant threw down this emphatic dunk over JaVale McGee:
For all of Wednesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.