On Wednesday, in a tense setting, behind 45 points, ten assists, and nine rebounds Westbrook and OKC downed Memphis 103-100. However, amid pandemonium, OKC’s MVP candidate fell one assist shy of eclipsing Oscar Robertson’s tried triple-double record.
With the “chase for 42” still underway, opposite Phoenix, Westbrook and company will attempt to build upon their brave recent outing to avenge a March 3, 118-111 setback vs. Earl Watson’s crew.
Though lottery-bound, during the teams’ last rendezvous Phoenix placed ten players at six-plus points to overcome Westbrook’s explosive —yet ineffective— 48 point, 17 rebound performance.
Meanwhile, an added bonus for tonight’s NBA TV encounter will see Devin Booker of 70-point fame roaming the court.
Even as Phoenix has dropped 13-straight, the excitement will be palpable for this potentially historic tilt vs. the conference foes.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (45-33 #6 west) vs. PHOENIX SUNS (22-57 #15 west)
- 10 PM ET
- Venue: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona
- TV: NBA TV, FSOK
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Avoid performance-related spotlight jitters: Other than the outside chance of Booker again hitting 70, tonight’s narrative centers around Russ’ chase for history. Westbrook shouldn’t force the issue, but rather allow the game to come to him.
- Defense: OKC allowed 118 points to an unpredictable Phoenix bunch the last time the teams met. A sound defensive strategy can prevent this from occurring tonight.
- Limit Devin Booker: 20-year-old Booker (21.9 ppg) has blossomed into a star this season. As an interesting aside, Thunder defensive stalwart Andre Roberson (if he plays) can potentially lock up an All-NBA Defensive team slot with a solid showing vs. D.B.
- Pound the glass: Rebound run-outs, and solid half-court defense are the key to a seasonal-series win vs. Phoenix.
- Build a lead and rest vital contributors: With the sixth-seed locked up, OKC would do well to selectively rest regular contributors in tonight’s encounter.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
LAST 5 GAMES
- Record: 3-2 (won 2 consecutive)
- OffRtg: #24: 101.9
- DefRtg: #2: 98.7
- NetRtg: #7: +3.2
As four games remain, Coach Billy Donovan must decide if he feels OKC can overcome a 2.5 game deficit to LAC in the playoff standings. If not, tonight would be a key opportunity to begin readying his roster for the post-season grind.
LAST 5 GAMES
- Record: 0-5 (lost 13 straight)
- OffRtg: #22: 102.9
- DefRtg: #21: 110.2
- NetRtg: #28: -7.3
Though the win column hasn’t reflected such, the Suns contain a talented, and improving, and intriguing young nucleus. Players such as Booker, Ulis, Warren, Chriss, and Bender will yield eventual results for the Phoenix organization.
With nothing to lose, expect the Suns to go all in for a victory vs. OKC.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORTS
The Oklahoma City Thunder list Alex Abrines (Knee) as out and Andre Roberson (Knee) as questionable for tonight’s tilt. The Phoenix Suns list Leandro Barbosa (Hamstring) as out vs. Oklahoma City.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Doug McDermott/Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Taj Gibson
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: Tyler Ulis/Eric Bledsoe
- Shooting Guard: Devin Booker
- Small Forward: TJ Warren
- Power Forward: Marquese Chriss
- Center: Alex Len
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: -8
Oklahoma City (17-21 road) enters as a sizable road favorite vs. the downtrodden Suns (13-26 home). And while the advantage is heavy in OKC’s favor, expect a closer contest due to the teams’ circumstances, especially if Donovan decides to hold Roberson out, and rest his core later in the contest.
Key Matchup: Westbrook vs. #42.
The historic potential for tonight’s season-finale between OKC and Phoenix makes this late-showing worth staying up for. As four games remain for Oklahoma City, and with Oscar Robertson’s 55-year-old single-season triple-double streak hanging in the balance, the spotlight will be firmly upon Russell Westbrook to claim history outright.
Also, there is a contingency that believes Westbrook has the strongest claim to this season’s MVP award. However, for Westbrook to solidify legitimate MVP standing on a 45-ish win iteration, OKC may need to win its remaining four contests in style.
Even so, this evening’s affair is must-see.