clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Thunder vs. Suns preview: After two days of rest, can Billy Donovan right the ship?

New, comments

In what should be a revealing game for the Billy Donovan era, the team will either show growth or remain mired in their bad habits.

California Bright Light Westbrook
California Bright Light Westbrook
WBB

Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are at a crossroads: fire Billy Donovan or trade Kevin Durant. I kid, but at 3-3 the handwringing over the rest of the season (and looming offseason) is going strong. Despite great games from both Durant and Russell Westbrook each night, the Thunder have dropped three close games in a row, two in which they coughed up double digit leads. They haven't strung together many complete games, with a roulette of turnovers, late game offense, and late game defense failing them interchangeably.

While the team shouldn't have lost all those games, it was their only four-in-five stretch of the season, and I'm interested to see what Donovan has done in their couple days off. Maybe he'll come through with a polished game plan and some obvious fixes to their struggles. Maybe he'll have reevaluated his hectic rotation choices or even tweaked the starting lineup (Steven Adams' back injury might make that choice for him). Since I wondered out loud about his lineups, the starters have blown the doors off teams (although I contend this was mostly in spite of Andre Roberson, not because of him) and his backup units have looked the same: swapping Dion in with the starters is no good, Kyle Singler makes for underwhelming Thunder basketball, and Anthony Morrow still isn't getting an opportunity to prove he's a better fit to run with the big three than Waiters even though the numbers are still in his favor.

Even though 3-4 is really not a big deal in the scope of a long season with a comeback superstar and rookie coach, the Thunder will really, really want this. Lose it, and the think-pieces, Donovan callouts, and KD-to-DC-confirmed noise will get a jolt.

Where They At: Phoenix Suns

The Suns are 3-2, having beaten some bad teams in the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers (twice) while coming up short against the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks. The awkward too-many-point-guards look looks a little more okay with Brandon Knight so far than it did with Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas last season, but the play of Markieff Morris has been down and the team still looks to have plateaued overall. Unless they get a development leap from Morris and/or one of their other young pieces, they might be stuck as the 9th or 10th best team in the Western Conference.

The Matchup

The Suns matchup is particularly intriguing to me because of the rivalry's recent history. The Thunder took three of four from Phoenix last season, including two awesome overtime contests. This could also be a revealing game for the Donovan era, outside of whether the team wins or loses. One of the hallmarks of the Scott Brooks-era Thunder was their inability to impose their will on good, stylistically different teams. They would grind their way through Memphis Grizzlies games, and run and gun their way through Suns games.

Will the Thunder let the Suns dictate the terms of this one, or play their game and make Phoenix adapt? While the latter is a better sign for the team, I actually hope and believe that the team will do what they've typically done, at least in the early going. Overtime games in the 130's are just as fun for Russ as they are for us, you know?

Prediction: Thunder 126, Suns 118

2015-16 NBA Season Game
@
3-2
(Lost 1)

3-3
(Lost 3)
November 8th, 2015
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City
6:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports Arizona, NBA League Pass
Injury Report: Steven Adams (Game-time decision)
This Season's Matchups: N/A
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Eric Bledsoe
Andre Roberson SG Brandon Knight
Kevin Durant SF P.J. Tucker
Serge Ibaka PF Markieff Morris
Steven Adams C Tyson Chandler