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


Oklahoma City Thunder 114, Phoenix Suns 96

Suns

Suns

Thunder

Thunder

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.

  • SHAZAM

    i just watched the rum diaries w/ johnny depp..it was ok..thought it would be better

  • silver

    lol Westbrook is about to go off and OKC is gonna have an easy day hitting threes. It’s unfortunate that these are two of three of the keys to the game. Its ok though Suns need to be fighting the battle for draft position whether they want to or not, anyways.

  • azbballfan

    Yeah im being realistic here

    The Suns win if OKC has a really really bad game and the Suns do everything right

    OKC wins if they are on their game even a little bit

  • Andres

    The FO needs to try to land a 2 via trade
    Did you see how NO played with Gordon back? The Suns are really a good 2 away of being a playoff team. Its a shame to see how Mayo is constantly having solid nights for the Mavs and that he just really wanted a starting role which the Suns could’ve offered.
    After seeing Gordon finish the Bobcats for NO you can see what a difference having a true baller makes.

  • Polish_fan

    Ok guys :) New Year in 4 h and 6 min … ;)

    I wish You all a great New Year with Your love team. Hope You will stay with the Suns whenever they will win or loose.

    Greetings from Poland

  • Harry

    I think I might be the last optimistic Suns fan left. I’m not interested in any trades at this point in time nor do I have any interest in tanking. I still think this team is a lot better than their record. The Suns are 12.5 point dogs tonight but it won’t stop me from cheering wildly.

    What I want to see from this team are questions answered about the unknown. And since Tucker is starting tonight, that’s a good place to start. He’s only getting 17 minutes a game. I want to see what this guy can do with more, 28-30 would be fine. I also want to see the Suns run the high pick and role more to see if Gortat and Dragic can do it. To me, when they run it it looks pretty good. Poster Polish_fan has mentioned they don’t run this play enough. The Suns need to run this a lot. It couldn’t be any worse than what they now run and would answer questions about Gortat that currently unknown. And at some time, we have to see Marshall. Gentry’s love affair with Telfair really needs to be curtailed long enough to see what Marshall can do.

    So, looking for a good start. No silly fouls by Dragic and hopefully Duds comes out on fire. Let’s go Suns!

  • DBreezy

    While personally I don’t really care if the Suns try more S/R or anything at this point, it does seem like that is a recipe for a quick disaster tonight against the Thunder. Two of the big keys for success for the S/R on previous Suns teams were spacing from 3pt shooters and varied scoring ability of Stoudemire on that play. The Suns are 18th in the league in 3 pointers taken, 20th in made 3 pointers and 26th in 3pt shooting percentage. IOW there’s really not a big rush to get to the Suns at the line. Especially when they’re starting Scola and now Tucker tonight.

    Besides the fact that Dragic isn’t as good at running the play as Nash was (duh!) the spacing issue makes it tough for it to be productive. Marcin isn’t a great pick and pop shooter and nowhere near as devastating as Amar’e was catching the ball in the FT area. So if you have Westbrook hound Goran, jam the lane with Perkins and Ibaka and run Duds off the line what do you get? A lot of long 2pt jumpers which teams love to give the Suns over the course of 48 minutes.

    A slow offensive start to this one and it could get ugly really quickly as the Thunder do shoot the 3 well, a known Suns weakness defensively. Especially if Thabo looks at the scouting report, sees Dudley’s recent games and decides to lock into him. Even the very reliable long jumper by Scola might be bothered by Ibaka’s length tonight, something we’ve seen a few times this season.

    You really hope that the Thunder just take this one lightly, but with the Clips and Spurs playing so well in the race for the best record, the Thunder may indeed be focused on picking up a gimme versus the 2nd worst team in the conference.

  • Harry

    DBreezy,

    The high PNR works because of spacing. Spacing is why it works, not the problem. The fact Dragic is less effective than Nash is irrelevant. There is a reason it’s the most common play in the NBA.

  • azbballfan

    so is the starting lineup tonight going to be

    dragic, brown, tucker, scola, and gortat?

    the only thing alvin gentry can do at this point is shufle lineups until he finds the one that gives us the best chance at winning

    I see the Bobcats won on the road at Chicago tonight

    that might make the Suns the NBA worst road team

    and the Bobcats did that without Mullins, Thomas, or MKG

    im happy for them

    they may not win many games but they put forth maximum effort

    If the Suns are gonna turn this season around make the playoffs, it has to come on this road trip

    im not in favor of making the playoffs though, that would hurt the team long term

    we really need a star to build around

    having some miracle where dragic turns into basketball jesus and gentry is controlling the refs with his mind

    isnt gonna help this team next season

    why isnt our ftont office needs to look at players around the NBA that are undervalued and have potential

    the Spurs do it all the time

    The Suns could probably get Anthony Randolph from Denver easily

    he is only averaging 7 minutes a game

    Thomas Robinson, the 5th overall pick in last years draft is only getting like 12 minutes a game.

    on a rebuilding team like the kings theres no way jason thompson should be playing in front of him

  • DBreezy

    @Harry

    I know why the S/R works in theory. The reality has been quite different.