GameThread tonight at 9! Check in and throw down your thoughts on the game!
Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (44-17) vs. The Phoenix Suns (32-29)
Time: 9:00 PM Central Standard Time
Place: The U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix, Arizona
TV: Fox Sports Net Oklahoma, Fox Sports Net Arizona
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM), KTAR 620 AM
Enemy Blog(s): Bright Side of the Sun, Valley of the Suns
Previous Results: Dec. 31, Mar. 7 (Thunder leads season series 2-0)
5-5 over the past 10 games. The record stings, doesn't it? If the Thunder would have merely won one of their past 5 games against playoff teams, they would be the number one seed right now. Instead, they went 0-5 and are now at the mercy of the Spurs in terms of gaining that seed. Tonight, they get a chance to redeem themselves against a borderline playoff team that has gone 20-10 over the past 30 games: the Phoenix Suns.
How are the Suns still in the playoff picture? Well, look no further than the play of their second chance guards, Michael Redd and Sebastian Telfair. Redd has regularly scored in the teens during the month of April despite coming off of the bench, and Telfair has averaged 13 points and 4 assists over the past 6 games in the same situation. With no bench to kill their offensive flow, the Suns have returned to their old ways, scoring over 100 in the majority of their games in April.
The past few Thunder-Suns games have been similar stories. The Suns start out anywhere from semi-competitive to excellent but they eventually lose the game during a big run because of poor pressure defense and a weak bench. But we haven't seen the Suns during their late March and early April Renaissance.
In order for the Thunder to win tonight, they'll have to see offensive production somewhere outside of Durant and Westbrook. Will Harden break out of his slump? Can Ibaka grab a million offensive boards and put them back in?Will Derek Fisher party like it's 1999?
Judging from the last encounter these two teams had, there's three things that will happen during a Suns run. Firstly, the Suns bigs get out in transition, and it's almost a guarantee that they'll find easy baskets. Gortat can't do much in half-court sets against Perkins, and Frye will mostly just shoot against Ibaka. But on the break, Gortat becomes a monster driving to the rim, and Frye becomes the guy who can find the perfect open spot. Secondly, the Suns will be grabbing offensive boards. You'd be surprised how many opportunities arise off of the confusion created on a offensive board. The Suns are one of the best teams at taking advantage of that, as evidenced by them being the sixth best team in the NBA in terms of assists. Thirdly, the Suns will be baiting the Thunder into taking shots by bunching into the lane, and the Thunder can't really sustain themselves on semi-contested jumpers.
All in all, this game will be a great test to see whether the Thunder have still "got it" against quality opponents. All of their wins have come against teams that had no reason to win, and all of their losses came against teams that are all candidates to go deep in the playoffs this year. The Suns are a perfect example of a team that's motivated but doesn't necessarily have the tools to go deep in the playoffs. This means that, if the Thunder are motivated, there's no real reason they should lose this game. If they do end up losing tonight, I'll have serious doubts about the Thunder's ability to contend come playoff time.
Spurs Watch: The Spurs are currently 0.5 games ahead of the Thunder, and are going up against the lowly Kings, who are 2-7 in the month of April. Again, tonight's game is a must win.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Phoenix Suns 98