The Denver Nuggets are hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night for what is the fourth game of a season-long, six-game homestand. Denver has won five of their last seven games and looks to continue their winning ways against a Thunder team that has been skidding lately.

Oklahoma City is coming into Denver carrying the weight of a three-game losing streak, with the most recent loss coming to the Sacramento Kings, who have won just one game prior to their upset of the Thunder on Tuesday night. Oklahoma City was only able to muster 86 points on 32.7 percent from the field against the Kings.

Usually, when an opponent comes to Denver on a losing streak, it’s a positive for the Nuggets. On Thursday night, when the Nuggets host the Thunder, it could be an entirely different situation, considering the talent on Oklahoma City’s roster.

“They have lost three games in a row. I think you can sense the frustration they have just with their own selves,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said, at shoot-around on Thursday morning. “We know we are going to get an unbelievably motivated and aggressive team coming out.”

Denver hosting a hungry and angry Thunder team brings an entirely different set of issues to the table. Russell Westbrook is already known for having an on-court mindset that borders on psychotic, so everyone knows he will come prepared to play, but now, with both Carmelo Anthony and Paul George on the roster, the talent level is far too high for anyone to be pleased with the current state of this Thunder team to start 2017-18 NBA season.

Oklahoma City will likely be as motivated as they have been all year, especially considering that every time the Nuggets and Thunder are matched up, there are usually some extra-curricular activities that occur throughout the game, as it did in the preseason, when Westbrook gave Nikola Jokic a shove that sent him to the floor.

Malone was asked about the chippy play between Jokic and Westbrook, and he said that he did not talk to his team about it, and that his focus is on the game.

“As far as Russell and Nikola: we just want to play the game,” Malone explained. “We are much more focused on not turning the ball over against a great defense than the Russell-and-Nikola dynamic. We just have to keep our heads if anything happens.”

The real battleground for the Nuggets’ matchup with the Thunder is, once again, going to be turnovers, as Malone emphatically explained throughout the entire interview at Nuggets’ shoot-around this morning.

What is interesting is that if Denver limits turnovers, they will be able to also slow the Thunder’s explosive offensive firepower. Everything starts with Denver being controlled offensively. The Thunder excel in forcing turnovers and getting out in transition — and that is Malone’s biggest worry versus the Thunder.

“It has to start on the offensive end,” Malone said. “This team leads the NBA in steals. They lead the NBA in deflections; they are fourth in points off of turnovers and they force the most turnovers. So I say it starts on offense. If we turn the ball over, Russell Westbrook is a one-man (fast-)break. If we fuel their break, it could be a long night and, as we all know, turnovers have been an issue for us. One of their strengths is one of our biggest weaknesses. That is going to be the main storyline tonight: how do we handle their aggressive defense?”

What makes the Thunder so effective in forcing turnovers is how they switch constantly. They play small more often than not, and use length combined with the athleticism to be disruptive in passing lanes, and even when playing one-on-one defense.

“They have a lot of like-size guys and they do a lot of switching,” Malone explained. “Their starting lineup switches, one through four, and when they go to their bench, (Jerami) Grant is their backup five, so they will switch one through five. They use their athleticism and their length to keep guys out of the paint. They are a disruptive team, and that is where those turnovers come into play. If you fall into that, and you struggle against all of their switching, it could make for a long night.”

The aggressive defensive philosophy of the Thunder is going to be the biggest hurdle for the Nuggets to overcome. It has the potential to throw the Nuggets offense out of rhythm, as well as result in lots of turnovers, which stimulates the Thunder’s struggling offense. Malone knows this, and has made it very clear to his team what they need to do to be able to come away with another victory.

“One thing we told our guys this morning is that if we get caught staring at the switch and becoming very stagnant and not moving the ball and not moving bodies, we become easy to guard, and that only strengthens their defense,” Malone explained. “We have to make sure that, yes, they are going to switch — and they are going to switch all night long — but the ball will find the mismatch, and we can hurt them on the glass, if that is the case. We want to keep the ball moving. We want to drive on their bigs if they switch onto our smalls and now get into our drive-and-kick game, but if we just try to throw the ball over the top against the switch, they are so damn athletic and long that they are going to be there, and that will be a turnover for us. That is something that we have to avoid.”

“If we do force them to play a half-court game, we have to have game-plan discipline,” Malone said. “Take on the challenge of keeping them out of the paint, not give Paul George threes, and keep them off the foul line. There are a lot of other things that go into it when you have three marquee players like they have.”