After starting the season 0 and 10 on any court other than Chesapeake Energy Arena, it felt like the Oklahoma City Thunder would spend the entire 2017/18 season looking for new and more inventive ways to lose to bad teams on the road. Since then, the Thunder have won 8 of 9 outside the 405 and look to improve upon that on the Talking Stick Arena floor in Phoenix at 7:00 p.m. tonight.
A lot has changed since those early days after Sam Presti added Carmelo Anthony, the final piece of the OKC3. Russell Westbrook has worked off the summer’s “first-baby” fat and is back to terrorizing opposing defensive perimeters. Anthony found a new persona, “Thunder Melo”, a nice mixture of “Hoodie”, “Olympic”, and “Me, Myself, and Melo”. All while Paul George was trimming off some unneeded muscle and transforming himself into the OKC version of Warner Brothers’ Tasmanian Devil....
... driving, cutting, slicing and dicing, or in this case, circling and looking for that Kiwi wall and the wide open 3.
In addition to discovering their own identities, the OKC3 have come to realize that Steven Adams is much more than just a pretty face...
.... and fashionista.
Allowing Adams a steady opportunity to abuse basketball rims as well as opponents makes everyone’s job easier.
No one will consider the Thunder a viable threat in the post-season as long as they carry a losing road record and a win tonight would get them to within 2 games of the break even mark. Generally when a team sitting 5th in the Western Conference standings goes up against a team with the 27th ranked offense and 19th ranked defense in the league that win would almost be a sure thing, but the memory of that 0 and 10 start on the road, as well the teams that benefited from it, is still raw.
Prior to the Laker game on January 3rd, Paul George admitted the Thunder have a bad habit of looking past weaker opponents and with the Suns’ Devin Booker regaining his form, after sustaining a groin injury earlier in the season, tonight would be a bad time to forget the team’s new commitment to respect every opponent and staying locked in for the entire game.
Although the move to start rookie Terrance Ferguson in place of the ailing Andre Roberson resulted in back-to-back wins, it still didn’t solved the Thunder’s tendency to give up 30 or more points in the first quarter, or digging double-digit deficits to climb out of.
The Suns don’t rely on 3-point scoring for a high percentage of their points (25%), but getting to the free throw line is a different matter. The Suns generate 18.5% of their scoring from the charity stripe drawing 22.4 opponent fouls per game ( both 2nd in the NBA) and are a top 10 scoring team in the paint (45.7) as well as a slightly better rebounding team than the Thunder.
Fortunately, the Suns commit as many fouls as they draw, thus the Thunder should press the attack early on a defense giving up a league high 112.4 pts/gm.
From the Suns’ Game Notes:
The Suns face the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first time this season, holding a two game winning streak in the series, including a 21 point victory behind 37 points from Devin Booker in the most recent meeting on April 7 of last season.
With their first three-point make, the Suns will extend their streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer to 1,100 straight, just the second team to reach 1,100 straight games in NBA history (Dallas from 1999 - 2012)
Tyson Chandler enters this game with 9,965 career rebounds as he closes in on becoming just the 40th player in NBA history to reach 10,000 career boards.
Marquese Chriss has scored in double figures in five straight games, and over his last six, he is averaging 12.8 points (50.9 FG%, 40.7 3FG%), 8.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks.
Thunder - Andre Roberson will miss his 4th game in a row. Alex Abrines practiced with the team yesterday, but with the emergence of Terrance Ferguson and Abrines continued defensive struggles, its unlikely he will start. Further, after three solid defensive outings from Josh Huestis, Abrines may find his minutes off the bench dwindling as well.
Isaiah Canaan (left adductor strain) is questionable and missed the Suns’ last game.
T.J. Warren (unknown illness) is questionable and missed last game.
Brandon Knight (left ACL tear) out for the season.
Alan Williams (right meniscus repair) is out approximately 6 months.
Who do you think will win tonight?
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