Preview: Phoenix Suns (17-20) at Oklahoma City Thunder (30-8)

Oklahoma City Thunder 115, Phoenix Suns 104



PHOENIX — No matter their second three-game winning streak of the season, the Phoenix Suns are a clear underdog as they hit the road to face the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight.

At the same time, history is on their side.

Even the post-Amar’e Stoudemire Suns teams have played the Western Conference’s young and rising team tough in the past year. Three of four games last season ended with the two teams within four or less points of one another, including a 113-110 Phoenix victory despite missing a chunk of its roster following the trade with Orlando.

This year, the Suns lost 107-97 to the Thunder early in the year, and that 107-point mark is the lowest scoring output Oklahoma City has dropped on Phoenix since April 9, 2010.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well,” head coach Alvin Gentry said of the early-season loss. “They’re deep and they’ll have other guys step up. But we’ve got to do a better job this time of rebounding the basketball, we’ve got to do a good job with turnovers.

“You have to play great basketball,” he added, “you can’t go in there and be sloppy.”

Considering the recent defensive success of the Suns, that makes tonight’s game ever the more interesting. Add in the fact Oklahoma City has defended its home court to the tune of a 16-1 record so far, and the odds aren’t in Phoenix’s favor.

“They’re playing great basketball at home,” said Suns forward Grant Hill. “Historically, even last year I think we went in there undermanned and beat them, played them well there, came down to the end. Didn’t play well this season, but you know, we have confidence.”

And considering the Suns have victories this season against the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers, there’s reason for the team to believe it can pull off a huge upset.

“We’ll remind each other of that before tomorrow’s game,” Hill said.

Then it might be a good sign for Phoenix that Hill will play a huge factor in any upset. In that single win against the Thunder last year, the Suns’ starting forward dropped 30 points on Oklahoma City, his second-highest output of his Phoenix career. He also made Durant work for his 28 points as the All-Star and potential MVP shot 8-for-19 from the field and scored 11 points from the foul stripe.

“He’s going to shoot the ball 30 times,” Hill said when asked the toughest part about guarding Durant. “That’s pretty difficult. And that he’s 7-foot, and he’s really good.”

Three keys for Phoenix

From inside out. In the broader scheme of things, the Suns’ newfound defensive efforts will be tested less in the paint and more on the perimeter against Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden off the bench. With Hill guarding Durant, that means players like Jared Dudley and Steve Nash must take away airspace from Westbrook and Harden. And if they get beat off the dribble, the Phoenix bigs better be in the right position with the weakside rotations protecting the rim. If all goes well, worst case is that Kendrick Perkins scores a lot off jump hooks.

Mix it up. Durant is impossible to beat, and he’s a smart dude, I’m sure. But the more Phoenix mixes up its coverages — whether that be by double teams versus one-on-one coverage, or going zone for stretches — the better off the Suns will be. While the Thunder has been able to score with ease against Phoenix in the past few meetings, keeping them out of a rhythm could at least keep the game close.

Find a third option. The Suns have gotten away with ugly offensive quarters in the past three games simply because of their stellar defense. I highly doubt that’ll be enough to beat the Thunder. Even without turning the ball over, Phoenix needs to get at least its usual production from Marcin Gortat and Nash. Then, they need to work toward feeling out who has a hot hand — set plays, perhaps? — then feed that whatever fire that may be. In other words, if (fill in the blank here with Dudley, Frye, Hill, etc.) gets a couple buckets to fall, the Suns must find a way to keep getting them the rock.

  • Scott

    Having OKC then Dallas on a back to back seems to guarantee two losses for the Suns.

    However, the Suns should give their best in this game and let the chips fall where they may.

  • Al

    Hill does a great job defending Durant. The one key to the game will be defending Cook at the 3point line. If Cook scores double digits like he did last game, then Suns lose.

  • FromOK

    I assume Ibaka will be chasing Frye around the 3 point line some. The more you can get Ibaka out of the paint on the defensive end, the better off you are.

  • PennyAnd1

    We expect the Suns to lose this game..but, if they manage to steal this one it sure will be a big boost. Let’s go Suns

  • Scott

    The Suns looked great for the first half. It looked like a good game between two playoff teams. But then they started to lose steam in the 2nd half, and collapsed in the 4th.

    I saw nothing here to change my opinion of how the team plays its players, except maybe to worry a bit more that Redd won’t find his shot (he was 3 of 9).

    Speaking of Redd, I appreciated how the 2nd unit began play with a scripted move to get the ball to Redd. I also appreciated how in the first half the 2nd unit tried to get the ball to Robin a few times when he was in position to do something.

    Brown may have been focused for this game, but if so, he showed that he has a relatively low ceiling on his potential. Too often the Suns had to dish him the ball when he wasn’t in position to finish, which rarely turned out well. He did get 2 assists, though, on top of 12 points, which made him the team’s 4th highest scorer in the game, and tied for highest assist-maker that wasn’t a PG.

    The main thing for me was how the Gortat/Frye game got exposed in the 2nd half. Gortat played well, but teams will only tolerate so much scoring from him before they turn their attention on him, which OKC did. Instead of the accidental fouls in the first half, he started taking the hard intentional fouls, and he drew multiple defenders. Frye (or Morris) was unable to spread the floor sufficiently. What Gortat needed in order to continue scoring and rebounding inside was a big helper.

    Also, looking at that game, I find it hard to believe Gortat can’t play against (and outplay) most of the league’s power forwards. The Suns are missing out on the opportunity to play fast and big with Gortat and Lopez, and they’re missing out on the opportunity to score in bunches with the bench by using Frye and Dudley there.