Preview: Phoenix Suns (1-2) at Oklahoma City Thunder (4-0)

Oklahoma City Thunder 107, Phoenix Suns 97

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By beating the New Orleans Hornets and avoiding a three-game losing skid to begin their season, the Phoenix Suns showed that they’re nowhere close to going into panic mode.

But against the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight in Oklahoma City, the Suns will need Friday’s effort and then some.

Phoenix’s first win revealed a few things. Namely, it showed that a number of players, the starters especially, were far from playing their best basketball. Every starter but Steve Nash scored in double digits and as a group they only turned the ball over four times.

Channing Frye, though still in a shooting slump, grabbed 16 boards. He, Grant Hill and Marcin Gortat combined for nine blocks on the night, leading the charge for perhaps one of the Suns’ best statistical defensive games in years, if not decades.

Still, the Suns will need more firepower to defeat a 4-0 Thunder squad that’s riding high in the sky following a dramatic victory against the Dallas Mavericks. Kevin Durant flexed his lanky-yet-powerful muscle with a game-winning three-pointer in that one, and Phoenix will need to find a way to limit the potential MVP, and running mates Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Burst from the bench

After Durant and his 31.3 points per game that’s second in the league after LeBron James, the scoring averages goes as follows for the Thunder: Harden with 17.5, Westbrook with 15.5 then a big drop to center Kendrick Perkins at 6.8.

The Suns must win the bench war if they have any chance in this one, and oddly enough, that doesn’t appear to be asking too much. Hakim Warrick had another solid outing, leading the team with 18 points and seven boards off the bench in Friday’s victory. He’s averaging 16 points per game, and though he didn’t play in the season opener, look for head coach Alvin Gentry to give Warrick at least 20 minutes per game should he keep up his efficiency.

Warrick received help from fellow bench-mate Shannon Brown, who finally found himself playing within, well, himself. Brown had 11 points, four rebounds and two steals against New Orleans.

Pick one

No matter how serious or overblown their early-season spat might be, Westbrook and Durant are two of the league’s best playmakers. Throw in Harden, and the Thunder have their own version of the Big Three.

Without much potency elsewhere on the roster, Phoenix might need to pick-and-choose its battles. There’s no chance to beat the Thunder if all members of its Big Three are in the flow of the game, so the Suns will need to pick one player they’re going to key on taking out of it.

Stopping the Durantula and his mean-mug is probably out of the question, so it comes down to focusing all energy to Harden or Westbrook.

Westbrook would be the smart choice. Considering his 0-for-13 outing against Memphis two games ago, and his turnover rate — he had seven turnovers in three games already — the Suns can’t let the streaky point guard get into a groove.

Hit them where it hurts

The Thunder could put Phoenix into a compromising position matchup-wise when the Big Three are on the court together. It puts Nash in a bad place defensively, so the Suns will need to cause their own matchup problems on the interior to offset it.

Robin Lopez and Gortat must get offensive touches to make that happen. Whether it comes by way of beating a huffing and puffing Perkins down the court in transition — the Suns finally got to running last time out, scoring 17 points on fast breaks — or overpowering Serge Ibaka, Nash and friends must get the ball to their big men.

And if Channing Frye can get his sights reset, that’ll add an extra boost as well.

Tags: Kevin Durant

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