Preview: Oklahama City Thunder (29-8) at Phoenix Suns (13-26)


Oklahoma City 102, Phoenix Suns 90

Thunder

Thunder

Suns

Suns

As far as wins go, Saturday’s 97-81 shellacking of the Chicago Bulls might be as sweet as they come for the Phoenix Suns in 2012-13.

The victory was the 2,000th in the history of the franchise, it snapped a five-game losing streak and a 12-game road losing streak, and more than anything, it showcased what a complete 48-minute performance looks like.

However in an 82-game season, wins like that can be rare for a struggling club like Phoenix and the time spent savoring them even rarer.

The Suns return to the friendly confines — if you can even call it that anymore — of US Airways Center further down in the standings (13 games below .500) then when they left the Valley last weekend. While more or less, Phoenix had only four or five bad quarters on their road trip, 1-3 mark on the four-game swing is nothing to celebrate.

Moral victories seem rather hollow at this point, no more so than if they continue to come against Monday night’s opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The reigning Western Conference champions come in with the league’s best record (29-8) and winners of seven straight against the Suns. Phoenix hasn’t beaten Scott Brooks and Co. since December 2010 and while it hung tough in Oklahoma City two weeks ago, the two teams couldn’t be further apart at this point in the season.

While Phoenix remains lesser than the sum of its parts (mostly collected through free agency and trades), the Thunder under the direction of general manager Sam Presti have morphed into a title-contending juggernaut.

As Lon Babby and Lance Blanks continue to search for a single franchise player, Oklahoma City already has two of them in former NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant (No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 draft) and two-time All-Star Russell Westbrook (No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 draft). But not only are the Thunder full of star power, they have a strong nucleus to surround Durant and Westbrook with the likes of Serge Ibaka (No. 24 pick in 2008 draft), Kevin Martin (acquired in a trade for James Harden, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 draft), Kendrick Perkins (acquired in a trade for Jeff Green, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2007 draft),  Nick Collison (No. 12 overall pick in the 2003 draft) and Thabo Sefolosha (No. 13 overall pick in the 2006 draft acquired in a trade for a first-round pick) more than happy to play complimentary roles.

As fans in the Valley are quickly learning, the art of rebuilding as the Thunder did comes with multiple years of futility, terrific scouting prior to the draft and yes, probably a little luck. Oklahoma City has certainly had everything fall into place in recent years, and heading into Monday night’s contest they show no signs of slowing down.

The Thunder have one of the league’s fastest-paced offenses (95.1 possessions per contest), yet they make the most of every possession. They rank No. 1 in offensive efficiency (110.6 points per 100 possessions), No. 3 in effective field goal percentage (52.7 percent) and No.  3 in rebounding rate (52.3 percent). What makes them so dangerous, however, is that they are also ranked No. 6 in defensive efficiency (99.8 points per 100 possessions) and No. 2 in blocked shots per game (7.1).

If Phoenix has something going for them in what looks to be a one-sided Western Conference matchup, it’s that the Thunder limp into the Valley with two of their starters — Ibaka (chest contusion) and Sefolosha (sore neck) — banged up. While Oklahoma City was without their two of its glue guys Sunday night in a four-point win at Portland, there is a good chance that at least Sefolosha will play against the Suns.

Three Keys for Phoenix.

Defend Durant. Because the Thunder are so deep and can beat opponents in numerous ways, this point often times is moot. But in order to defeat the snake, you first have to cut off its head. Oklahoma City, first and foremost, is Kevin Durant’s team. And while they’re may not be a more enjoyable star in the NBA to watch and to root for, if the Suns have any chance of pulling off their biggest win of the season, P.J Tucker will have to limit the league’s third-leading scorer (28.6 points per game). Tucker did a decent job containing Durant through the first three quarters on New Year’s Eve, but the former Naismith College Player of the Year had 10 points down the stretch as the Thunder pulled away en route to an 18-point victory.

Control the Tempo. The Suns are no longer the up-tempo squad they were during their formidable days atop the Western Conference. The Thunder are, however. Phoenix fell into that trap during the teams’ prior meeting and it came back to bite them over the final 12 minutes of play. When Oklahoma City gets an opportunity to run with their athletes, they take it and are usually effective. In their 114-96 victory over Phoenix, the Thunder went to the charity stripe 24 times and only turned the ball over on five occasions. If the Suns are able to make Monday’s game into a half-court contest, both of those numbers should take a noticeable hit.

Rinse and Repeat. Michael Beasley had one of “those games” Saturday night in Chicago. The former No. 2 overall pick was arguably the most efficient he has been all season, scoring 20 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Consistency has plagued Beasley during his NBA career and that trend has not stopped in Phoenix. In the four games following a 20-point performance this season, Beasley has combined to score just 34 points. Now it might be a lot to ask him to shoot 71 percent from the floor for a second consecutive game, but with Jared Dudley unavailable against the Thunder (strained right wrist), Phoenix could use some much-needed offense off its bench.

  • SHAZAM

    suns 123 okc 121 ..it will be close but the suns have the edge because they play at home…..if russia entered iran from behind..would greece help?

  • Cody

    How will Beasley follow up after a very good offensive game will be a key, how will Dragic come out after a poor shooting game but a good assist game, he can’t get stupid foul calls, but instead try and force Westbrook into bad shots, then with Ibaka out can we force the issue inside? Another key is to not let PJ, Tucker shoot the ball because it seems to never go in for us, just kidding, limit Durants touches and just body him up and not let him get comfortable. We might be able to win 2 in a row which would be nice

  • azbballfan

    Suns hang around and make it a game before the Thunder pull away for the win

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    29-8 vs 13-26

    Durant vs Beasley

  • Cam

    Hopefully Gortat has a great game, showing his worth to OKC. If he can effectively outplay Perkins and help keep the Suns in the game Presti may be willing to work with the Suns, maybe allowing them to pry away the Raptors 1st. Go Suns.

  • Cam

    The Knicks are looking for more help inside. I wonder, although he hasn’t played well as of late, if the Knicks would be interested in O’Neal and what the Suns could get in return for him. Go Suns.

  • foreveris2long

    Has anyone noticed how well Earl Clark is playing in LA? He actually looks like a better fit in Antoni’s system than Pau Gasol does. When the Suns had him 99.8% of the message board could wait to get rid of him. I begged the Suns to give him quality minutes but to no avail. With Lopez and Clark under 25 and both showing good NBA promise, Gentry may take some heat for not giving these guys more quality minutes. We should have been rebuilding any way.Then when you consider the Suns passed on John Henson who is playing well now that Skiles has left the building,for K. Marshall, it is no wonder we look like the Titantic in the desert.

  • foreveris2long

    Cam, I am looking for help inside too but the help I am looking for is inside the Suns front office. I am just saying.

  • Cody

    Why does our offense consist of just having Dragic stand in the corner, we just run through Scola now, how is that maximizing our potential and it doesn’t seem to get Dragic involved at all, I really don’t understand what the offense is, maybe that was just what I saw

  • Tom Leander

    Check out my purple beanie!

  • azbballfan

    Hows those gloves working for you Tom?

    im sitting here in south east mesa and its darn cold out here for me!

    yeah Durant scores 41, westbrook 36 pretty much what i said would happen where we hang around and the thunder do what they do and close it out

  • foreveris2long

    That dunk by Durant where he shook Beasley and posterized Gortat made me shiver even though I hate when teams mistreat us like that. Yikes!

  • azbballfan

    Gortat had 19 and 15 and a block in 46 minutes

    Perkins didnt score but grabbed 13 boards in i think 27 minutes

    6 days till the next Suns game

    OKC-PHX trade in the works?

    btw i thought Hasheem Thabeet played well in his minutes

    We got 14 and 11 outta beasley in 27 minutes thats the most consistent we have seen him

    hopefully he keeps it up

  • Russell

    Beasley was 2 for 11 from the field (he scored 3 additional buckets in garbage time, last 3 minutes and change to finish 5 for 14 from the field) and 3 for 6 from the line. Really did not see much there. He was taking terrible shots from 3 instead of going inside.

    But he did go after the boards most of the game.

  • bill.thomas

    Beasley shoots like an AR-15.

  • azbballfan

    I just saw the Suns playoff odds before this game

    we have a 3 tenths of a percent chance of making the playoffs

    we are 10 and 10 at home and 3-17 on the road

    Time to blow it up and prepare for the future, front office and by that i mean trade players we can get value for for young talent and future or current draft picks

  • SHAZAM

    beasley for the most part shoots out side and misses or he goes inside and turns the ball over..pick your poison

  • bill.thomas

    Yeah, 3 turnovers in like the first 7 minutes of his court time tonight. Yikes !

  • Scott

    I thought Thabeet played well too. He’s been plagued by immaturity, but hopefully he’s finally starting to wise up … a little.