A road-worn Oklahoma City Thunder collective visits the Phoenix Suns tonight with hopes of rekindling their competitive spark.
Last night, Oklahoma City lost traction late vs. a Portland team clutching to remain in the playoff scramble. Though Russell Westbrook gave 45 points, the NBA's fourth-quarter ambassador gave out in the final frame.
Ultimately, Terry Stotts’ crew escaped victorious, 114-109. OKC’s unbeaten streak ended at four games amid the Trail Blazers’ fierce 33-24 rally.
On short turnaround, Oklahoma City seeks redemption vs. the NBA's second-worst record in Phoenix.
Overall, the untried Suns have lost three-of-four, and seven-of-ten. However, on the second night of their own back-to-back, Phoenix holds court while boasting a 120-103 Thursday night win vs. Charlotte.
Talented 2016 lottery-pick Marquese Chriss’ 17-points piloted a robust all-around effort —10 players with 5 or more points— from Phoenix.
By design, the Suns’ roster is overtly youthful, as a third of Phoenix’ players are 21 years-of-age or younger. Naturally, such inexperience lends to competitive trials. Subsequently, Phoenix trends toward the league’s bottom in most major statistical categories.
Though, on occasion, Phoenix (107.3 ppg #10 NBA) has provided many an unprepared foe with a stern test.
Coming off a loss, and on the road, Oklahoma City cannot take Phoenix lightly. OKC is 2-0 this season vs. Phoenix, but needed overtime to eke out a win in the teams’ first meeting.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (35-26, #7 west) vs. PHOENIX SUNS (19-42, #13 west)
- Time: 9 PM ET
- Venue: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona
- TV: FSOK
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Have game? Will travel: Oklahoma City is an excellent home team. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Billy Donovan’s crew on the road. The Thunder must focus tonight as they look to avoid consecutive road losses to sub .500 iterations.
- Use veteran guile against a young Phoenix team: Both OKC and Phoenix are youthful groupings; however, the Thunder hold a decided experience advantage. Conversely, the Suns’ legs —due to lack of travel— will be fresher tonight. It behooves Oklahoma City to pull out the veteran tricks vs. Phoenix.
- Don’t get sloppy: As their record indicates, Phoenix can be easily put away. Though the key to so doing is to value possessions and discourage the win-deprived Suns early and often.
- Shake it off, Russell: Westbrook must forget his less than ideal fourth-quarter vs. Portland.
- Back to basics: Can we get Steven Adams some shots? The Kiwi has just nine FGA’s in his last 51 on-court minutes. Also, the starting front line’s lack of production is a bit concerning.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER:
To elaborate upon two aforementioned topics:
While OKC functioned seamlessly immediately after acquiring Gibson and McDermott, the Thunder was conspicuously addled last night. Further, Oklahoma City’s starting front line has contributed just 16 points in its past two outings.
Though Westbrook leads the NBA in usage, improved shot distribution is vital to OKC’s success.
Another area of concern is Oklahoma City’s home/road performance discrepancy. OKC holds a +8.1 ppg, +11 win, +12.4 +/- differential in games played at Chesapeake Energy Arena as opposed to those played on their opposition’s turf.
Tonight, the Thunder will need to make a concerted effort to improve upon their road issues.
As 5/6ths of the league still jockeys for potential playoff standing, Phoenix is atop the short list of teams eyeing this summer’s #1 overall draft selection. Though, as mentioned, the Suns cannot be overlooked.
In addition, while OKC harbors post-season scenarios in mind, Earl Watson’s bunch has no such dilemma. This loose and free feeling should allow for the Suns’ best-version to emerge.
To quote the great Bob Dylan, “When you got nothing, you go nothing left to lose.”
That alone makes for a dangerous opponent.
Although, still, Phoenix does boast two 20 ppg scorers in Eric Bledsoe (21.2) and Devin Booker (20.8).
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS AND INJURY REPORTS
The Oklahoma City Thunder list Victor Oladipo (Back) as day-to-day. Oladipo has missed the team’s past four contests. The Phoenix Suns list rookie forward Dragan Bender (ankle) as out. Marquese Chriss (calf) is listed as probable after exiting and then returning to Thursday night’s win over Charlotte.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Alex Abrines/Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: Eric Bledsoe
- Shooting Guard: Devin Booker
- Small Forward: T.J. Warren
- Power Forward: Marquese Chriss
- Center: Alex Lin
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: -4.5
Though OKC vs. Portland ended early this morning on the east coast, the traveling Thunder are still comfortable favorites against home-team Phoenix.
Tonight’s key matchup is Andre Roberson/Devin Booker. Presumably, Oladipo will again be MIA, and since Booker is averaging 26 ppg this year against OKC, defensive ace Roberson should draw the assignment.
While Roberson can frustrate the high-scoring shooting guard, Oklahoma City mustn't allow either Eric Bledsoe or T.J. Warren to explode. Also, this is a perfect game for Steven Adams to jump back into the mix.
Oklahoma City ranks 20th in OffRtg (104.5) and eleventh overall with a 105 DefRtg. The Phoenix Suns rank 21st in OffRtg (104.2) and 27th in DefRtg (109.1).
Oklahoma City is 3-8 with 0 days rest. Meanwhile, Phoenix is 4-6 on 0 days rest.