Preview: Phoenix Suns (17-33) at Oklahoma City Thunder (37-12)

Time: 6 p.m. MST






The Suns get enough reminders how far the franchise has fallen.

Tonight’s visit to Oklahoma City, however, provides the first half of a potential double-slap reminder of what was. Like the Suns of seven years ago, the Thunder find themselves vying with the Spurs (39-11) for the regular season title of best in the West. Like the old Suns, the Thunder have a talented, young core.

Like the once-good Suns, OKC is somewhat altered after losing a key piece of that young core (Joe Johnson/James Harden) before the group could realize its potential. And like that old Phoenix team, the Thunder have rebounded well enough with replacements (Raja Bell/Kevin Martin) to stay in the title mix.

Meanwhile the Suns — now several replacements removed from their original contending core — continue to play musical chairs when the moment for someone to step up arrives. Last week it was Michael Beasley. Against Memphis, it was Goran Dragic. At Western Conference-worst New Orleans, nobody.

Phoenix can’t afford the latter to happen again, not against a Thunder team featuring two players who excel at “stepping up” to the point they sometimes get in each other’s way.

The Suns would love for another awkward Durant-Westbrook exchange, one of the reasons Oklahoma City has won just six of its last 10 games, including a defeat to lottery-bound Cleveland.

Of course, Phoenix doesn’t have Kyrie Irving. At this point, they’re not sure which version of their own players will show up on any given night. Will it be Dragic that punches in and out for quiet 14 points and eight assists? Or will it be “The Dragon” that single-handedly won two games against a more-than-solid Memphis team?

Dragic’s consistency and P.J. Tucker’s emergence make for feel-good stories, but the Suns’ recent wins prove more is needed. Beasley’s 27 points were just enough to topple a then-struggling Lakers team. Dragic’s 15 fourth-quarter points helped steal another victory at Memphis’ expense.

Against New Orleans, no one answered the call. Subsequently, the Suns offense was out of service, mustering a meager 84 points.

In other words, more than the usual or expected is needed from someone, anyone, if Phoenix hopes to give OKC a loss to be embarrassed about.

In the process, the Suns could erase some of the embarrassment from Monday.

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