Thunder count on Patterson to contribute vs. Nuggets (Dec 18, 2017)

OKLAHOMA CITY — It took awhile for Patrick Patterson to find much of a role for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Coming off offseason knee surgery and with Thunder coach Billy Donovan working to find a cohesion between veteran stars Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Patterson received sporadic minutes during the early part of the season.

Lately, though, Patterson’s workload has ramped up. Heading into a Monday night home game against the Denver Nuggets — and with Anthony continuing to struggle — Donovan figures to continue giving Patterson more looks.

“I like the fact that he’s a really good ball-mover with that second unit,” Donovan said of Patterson. “I’m not gonna say he’s never gonna start, but I’m more happy that we’ve been able to give him more minutes. He’s able to come along. … He’s starting to round off a little bit more than where he was maybe a month ago.”

Donovan has been resistant to making major changes in his rotation as he works to shake the Thunder (14-15) from their offensive struggles.

Though Oklahoma City has won six of its last nine, even with a Saturday loss at New York, the offense still hasn’t been able to establish a rhythm with its Big Three.

During the three-game road trip that wrapped up against the Knicks, the Thunder won two of three, but the trio of Westbrook, George and Anthony combined to shoot just 35.1 percent (59 of 168).

Like the Thunder, the Nuggets have struggled to find much footing, especially after losing Paul Millsap to a left wrist injury that figures to keep him out until after the All-Star break.

Denver (16-13) is just 8-8 in its past 16 games, never winning more than two straight or losing more than two in a row during that stretch.

The Nuggets, in the midst of a stretch of 10 of 13 games on the road, hope the return of Nikola Jokic to the lineup will provide some stability.

Jokic was back in action Friday, coming off the bench in his first game back after missing more than two weeks with an ankle injury. He finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes as the Nuggets beat the visiting New Orleans Pelicans 117-111.

“We’re not expecting him to come back and be Superman,” Denver coach Michael Malone said recently.

Nuggets backup point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is questionable for the Monday game after spraining his right ankle in the second quarter of the Friday win.

If Mudiay isn’t able to go — he will test the ankle at Monday’s shootaround — Malik Beasley, Jamal Murray and Will Barton figure to spread out the load at the spot. Mudiay is averaging just more than 20 minutes per game.

While offensive bright spots have been hard to come by so far this season for Oklahoma City, Steven Adams is one of them.

The fifth-year center is averaging a career-best 13.7 points and shooting better than 63 percent from the floor. He has become a very effective inside scorer on the pick-and-roll, especially recently.

However, the Thunder are expected to be without Adams for the second consecutive game Monday. He remains in the league’s concussion protocol after getting hurt while guarding Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid in the first overtime Friday at Philadelphia. Oklahoma City eventually beat the 76ers 119-117 in triple overtime before falling 111-96 to the Knicks on Saturday.

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