Phoenix Suns vs OKC Thunder: Game 61 Preview; Surging Suns Come to Loud City

Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (38-22) vs. The Phoenix Suns (32-28)

Time: 6:00 PM Central Standard Time

Place: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: KUTP 45, FSOKHD

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), 99X 97.9 FM

Enemy Blog(s): Bright Side of the Sun

Previous Meeting(s): Thunder 111, Suns 107

Tonight the Suns come to OKC in the midst of a strong stretch having won five of their last six. From the outside looking in, it appears that the recent trade for Marcin Gortat has proven dividends, giving the Suns some much needed size on the inside in order to compete with the elite teams of the West. Unfortunately, the Suns got off to a rough start this year and I wondered if we were watching the swan song of Steve Nash-led playoff teams in Phoenix. Their righting of the ship thus far has proven to be inspirational as the Suns are now four games above .500 and sniffing at the eighth seed, but you have to wonder if the hole they fell into in the first half of the season doomed their playoff chances since they will not be able to avoid the top three seeds in the 1st round.

Regardless of what the Suns' final season will say about the team, they are playing well now, and they have played the Thunder tough in their first two match-ups. Both those games came down to the final moments, with the Suns holding off the Thunder in the first and the Thunder catching the Suns late in the 4th in the second. 

For me, I'm going to be paying close attention to two things tonight:

  1. Russell Westbrook vs Steve Nash: This match-up is one that on paper would seem to favor Westbrook. He is quicker, stronger, and can get into the lane at ease against this team. But Nash seems to apply some weird judo point  guard moves on Russell, because Nash has a way of using Westbrook's explosiveness against him. Westbrook has had a strong penchant for attacking too early and too often, neglecting his point guard responsibilities in the process. I think it is because Westbrook knows he can beat Nash that he wants to go hard non-stop, instead of maximizing his full resources.

    That said, in the previous game Westbrook did figure things out late. He scored nine in the 4th, which included a clutch jumper and two free throws in the final minute. It will be critical for Westbrook to remain patient once again, especially in regards to how he played on Friday against the Hawks. He played conservative early and then attacked late. 

  2. Marcin Gortat vs the Thunder bigs: In game two of the series, Gortat had only been recently traded and played out of synch for most of the game. Now that he has a few more games under his belt playing with Nash, I would expect that he will be a much more potent offensive weapon at the team's disposal. 

    The current Thunder line-up of big men has Nazr Mohammed, Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, and possibly Cole Aldrich going up against Gortat and Robin Lopez. Without Kendrick Perkins, this is a more athletic defensive front, which I think allows them to remain at an advantage against the Suns. They will be challenged to defend against the high screens that Nash likes to run, and it will be incumbent upon them to keep Nash running sideline to sideline, rather than penetrate into the lane. 
Lastly, there has been word that Nash has been dealing with a new injury, apparently having injured his...pubic bone.

 

"The muscle group in my underlying stomach muscles shuts off so you lose a lot of control. Then there's shearing forces and I have issues with my pelvis. I've had a lack of control because that muscle has been shut off for the last week but the pain just started. Playing like that for a week has made it inflamed. I just have to start back at step one and get my strength back. I definitely am not trying to shut it down. I'll try to get back on top of it and stay ahead of it."

So, there is that. How serious is it? Well, this is the same guy who made this movie:

Go Steve, go.

Prediction: Thunder 111, Suns 105

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