Preview: Phoenix Suns (11-20) at Oklahoma City Thunder (23-6)

Oklahoma City Thunder 114, Phoenix Suns 96





It’s one thing for the young Suns, who are 2-13 on the road, to end a five-game losing streak away from U.S. Airways Center but quite another to do it against the Oklahoma City Thunder playing with a little nasty streak.

The Phoenix Suns didn’t have many answers for their loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night other than the failure to execute down the stretch. On Monday night in Oklahoma, they’d be happy just to be in that position against the Thunder, which blew out the Houston Rockets 124-94 Saturday thanks to turning over James Harden and company, then scoring.

Oklahoma City used its length to force 24 turnovers by Houston as hounding defense by Russell Westbrook and the backcourt forced Jeremy Lin and Harden into four turnovers each. The Thunder even committed 21 turnovers themselves – it didn’t matter.

Turnovers for Phoenix weren’t a concern in the Minnesota loss. The Suns gave the ball up just four times, and the offense appeared to be flowing. Stopping big men Kevin Love and especially Nikola Pekovic, however, was another issue.

Of course, now the challenge will be finding a way to compete with Westbrook and Kevin Durant’s scoring.

Still, the Suns’ biggest problem very well could be the Thunder’s threat of going on backbreaking runs by way of its defense. Against the Rockets, Oklahoma City finished off the second quarter with a 16-0 run thanks to five forced turnovers, and with their offensive firepower, fighting back wasn’t something an overwhelmed Rockets team could handle.

For a Suns team that has, in a very opposite sort of way, struggled to stop opposing teams from going on such runs, Monday night’s game could go very poorly if Phoenix isn’t careful.

That four-game winning streak that ended five games ago very well might have reminded Phoenix’s opposition that they aren’t pushovers. So if a well-coached team like the Thunder fully expects to get the Suns’ best, it’s a wonder how a Phoenix team with no room for error will be able to keep pace.

Three keys for the Suns

Hope that Russell Westbrook hasn’t found his shot. Against Houston, the Thunder point guard hit 11-of-22 shots, and it was just the sixth time this season he’s shot at 50 percent of above. He told The Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry that his goal is to put two good shooting performances together. Unfortunately for Phoenix, it’ll have to deal with his goal.

Awaken the bench unit. During the five-game losing streak, Phoenix’s bench has been outscored by an average of 24 to 34.8. Alvin Gentry has cut back on the bench minutes, yes, but he’s also expressed displeasure with their play.

Three-point field goal percentage. We could point this out for every game, but there’s a reason that the top three-point shooting teams in the NBA are Miami, Oklahoma City, New York, San Antonio and Golden State. The Thunder hit 40.2 percent of long balls, and the Suns are dead last in the league by allowing opponents to shoot 40.4 percent. Either the Suns must defend the three or pray Oklahoma City is missing. Otherwise, it’ll be a long night.

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