Oklahoma City Thunder (18-47, 5-27 road) at Phoenix Suns (34-31, 19-13 home)
TV: KSBI (Cox 15)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
Time: 9:00 CST
Offensive Rating: Thunder: 103.7 (28th), Phoenix: 112.2 (4th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder: 109.5 (20th), Phoenix: 110.9 (24th)
Pace: Thunder: 93.7 (8th), Phoenix: 95.5 (4th)
A return to the desert to take on the Suns. You know, the team that scored 140 on OKC the last time they played. You know, scored 79 points on the Thunder in the first half. Yeah, that team.
But, luckily for OKC, the Suns aren’t in their “score 140 points on everybody” mode anymore. They’ve lost six in a row and allowed 118 points a game in that stretch. One thing to note about their losing streak – it was against the likes of Orlando, Miami, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Cleveland. Not exactly pushovers. In fact, since Alvin Gentry took over, the Suns haven’t really lost to anyone they shouldn’t have. They haven’t beat anybody they shouldn’t have, but still. Against sub-par opponents, they seem to really take care of business. But this doesn’t feel like the Nuggets game where a good team is desperate to get back on track. It feels more like a team is teetering on totally falling apart. So this is a big game for the Suns.
Kevin Durant is supposed to return, but I’m not sure how many minutes he’ll play. He’s said that more than anything, he’s concerned about his conditioning more than his ankle. And with the frenetic pace Phoenix plays at, KD may only see 25-30 minutes – which would probably be smart.
The thing I hope the Thunder learned during this 5-2 stretch is that they play better under control. It’s fine to get out and run and make plays in transition – when they’re there. But to run just because the other team is running is what gets you beat by 25 (and you give up 140 points or so too). The Thunder has got to execute in the half court. OKC has been said to be taking the Spurs model for building a franchise. Well, they ought to take the Spurs model for beating the Suns too. San Antonio slows the pace, grinds out possessions, hits the offensive glass and keeps the game at their comfort zone. OKC’s got the tools to do the same, especially with KD back.
Hopefully, Nick Collison is back too tonight because otherwise, the Thunder might get chewed apart inside. Nenad Krstic just can’t handle Shaq for 40 minutes or more. He’ll foul out. Krstic has the type of game than can exploit Shaq on the other end, but defensively, he needs help.
The Suns want to start fast and bury you early. They shot almost 60 percent last time with Leandro Barbosa going for 41 on 16-21 shooting. They try and get easy buckets and make you feel like you need to shoot quickly in order to stay close. Some teams can pull it off, but the good ones play it smart and get good looks whether it’s five seconds in to the shot clock or 20 seconds in. One thing that pace does is give bad shooters open looks and goats them into taking them. The Thunder’s got to be smarter than that.
It should be a fun game and it will definitely be nice to see KD back. Tip at 9:00 CST. Go Thunnnn-durr.