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

  • Keith

    Great preview. Looking forward to it tonight. Hopefully they will have tired legs as it’s their fifth game in six nights. A win tonight would be huge. Do Nash and Hill have anything left? Will the bench step up? I look for Morris to play a lot more tonight. Go Suns.

  • Mike W

    If the Suns are going to beat the Thunder, the only way they are going to be able to do it is through a strong defense and crashing the boards. If the Suns try to just outscore the Thunder like in past years the game we be over quickly because the Thunder will easily be able to put points on the board with Durant, Harden, and Westbrook.

    The Suns need to try and shut down Durant. I would like the see Markieff Morris guard him a few plays along with Grant Hill. I would put Harden as the second highest concern for the Suns defense. Childress or Dudley would be good covers for him. As for Westbrook, I would let him shoot, but you have to keep him away from the rim. That is where he will cause the most damage. If he gets to the rim he can either score or kick it out and set up Durant, Harden, or Cook for open jumpers. That or dish a few out to their Big Men.

    Nash needs to have a good shooting game. He needs to be a threat offensively. Along with Frye. Lopez needs to have a good game as well to take some of the pressure off of Gortat to score. I would just isolate Gortat because its been hard for him to play Pick and Roll with his thumb. His hook shots look good and it would let him show off the post game he learned from Hakeem Olajuwon.

    Finally the bench needs to outplay OKC. Shannon Brown and Hakim Warrick need to fuel the benches offense because everyone else really isn’t an offensive threat. The bench just needs to play good defense and score every now and allow the starters to rest (Nash and Hill.) Hopefully this wont be a problem seeing as the bench has been playing very well as of recently.

    At the end of the day I just hope the Suns can win. GO SUNS!

  • Mel.

    This is a nightmare matchup for Phoenix–but then again, OKC pretty much has that effect on any team–and I think it’ll be a legitimate test of just how much “improvement” we really saw in the last game.

    If they can run with KD, Westbrook and Harden and put up a decent effort against Perkins and Ibaka, then there’s definitely some hope.

    However, if they get steamrolled in another blowout… well. Maybe it isn’t an outright opportunity for more doom and gloom, but it definitely puts the psychological health of the squad back on Square One.

    That said, it should be a fun game to watch. Definitely a chance for some high-octane running and clinic-quality shooting.

  • shazam

    their big 3 is no match for our big 3..uhhm 2? maybe 1?..well its a team sport…thunder will lose by 6

  • Tony

    The Suns have for some reason played the Thunder tough over the past two years. It’s probably because the Thunder didn’t then and still don’t have any interior scorers. Perkins is no offensive threat whatsoever. So hopefully the Suns can take advantage of that and somehow get their bigs to provide help defense on Durant and Westbrook and Harden too.
    This is going to be an extremely difficult game for the Suns to take in any case, particularly playing a back to back against a young rested Thunder team and playing them on the road. If the Suns can at the very least keep the game close, that would be a kind of moral victory in itself. I know that doesn’t translate into actual wins, but if the Suns can keep the game close, it will show they are better than people think.

  • Scott

    Well, the Suns’ offense deserted them again. Weak legs, weak shots. :(

  • Tony

    So frustrating! I know it was a back to back for the Suns playing against a younger and rested opponent in the Thunder on the road nonetheless but still, watching the Thunder players, it was obvious how much faster and more athletic they are than the Suns. The Suns just looked old, tired, and slow.
    Comparing the Thunder to the Suns roster, are there any players on the Suns that are better players than the Thunders’ players’ at their respective position? I mean even Gortat, who had a nice game, doesn’t seem to be as good as Perkins this season.
    Well Suns fans, let the bs start rolling from the Three Stooges, Sarver, Babby, and Blanks, that we as Suns fans should not expect the Suns continuing bad losses and that Michael Redd is our savior! That may work for a few dummies who still have some faith in the front office of the Suns, but I think most Suns fans no longer buy into the bs.

  • Phx suns fan in la

    I really see no reason for frye to be starting over markeiff. I liked jmz and hak in this game but out shots are not falling.

  • Scott

    @Tony -

    I think some players did more than others to stay in shape during the extended offseason. We know that Durant and others were playing exhibition games, and that may have helped them stay in better shape, and may have helped them set a higher bar for the teams they lead.

    With the Suns, so far as I know, the only players who were notably active in the offseason were Warrick and Dudley. Not surprisingly, these guys have done relatively well for the Suns so far. Lopez was playing a lot with his brother and their group of guys. But what I gather is that Gortat and Siler did some weights, Nash and Hill did some cardio, and so on, so when the camp started there was really no way they were going to get into basketball shape in time.