Preview: Phoenix Suns (2-0) at Oklahoma City Thunder (1-1)


Time: 5 p.m. MST

TV: FSAZ / NBATV

Suns

Suns

Thunder

Thunder

It’s still early in the season, but Vegas wouldn’t bet on the Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder meeting Sunday under such circumstances. A 2-0 Phoenix team opens its 2013-14 road schedule in Oklahoma City and against a Thunder squad with bruises.

To start the season, Kevin Durant and Co. held off the same Utah Jazz team Phoenix defeated Friday. In their second game the Thunder, fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves by a 100-81 final score. The Suns could be facing an irked team, or they could perhaps use the Thunder’s record as a sign the Western Conference power is beatable with Russell Westbrook missing.

Update (12:45 p.m. MST): According to Darnell Mayberry, Westbrook has been medically cleared and he will play tonight against the Suns. Suddenly, the game just got a lot tougher for Phoenix. Eric Bledsoe has had his fair share of question-marks, but his defense will surely be under the microscope, even if Westbrook is a bit rusty.

If we set an over/under on Durant shooting 45 percent, do the Suns get the under?

P.J. Tucker lives for these moments. Phoenix’s best perimeter defender is coming off a strong performance against Utah’s Gordon Hayward, even if the Jazz forward hit a game-tying three-pointer over Tucker that nearly pushed the Friday night game into overtime. Hayward shot 6-for-17 from the floor, and give Tucker the credit.

Seemingly, Tucker has played Durant tough in the past. But last season in four games against the Suns, Durant had an offensive rating of 132 points per 100 possessions, which were only bested by his ratings against Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Sacramento. The 6-foot-10 shooting guard hit 48 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range. With more direction in terms of team defense, Tucker should have more help this weekend. Can the Suns hold Durant below 45 percent shooting?

It won’t be easy considering Durant is coming off a 13-point game. That said, the T-Wolves double-teaming of Durant forced the other Thunder players to beat Minnesota. They couldn’t.

Who wins the starting power forward battle?

Channing Frye kept his starting role against the Jazz despite Markieff Morris returning from his one-game suspension for his preseason elbow to Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka’s face. It’s a sign that, not only is Frye valuable as a shooter — shooting is something the Suns sorely need — but that Morris’ aptness to kill offensive flow and his general being out-of-touch hasn’t been overlooked by Jeff Hornacek.

Beyond that, Frye could pose problems for Ibaka and vice versa. Ibaka is shooting 7-for-28 through two games and, as Darnell Mayberry notes for The Oklahoman, is missing Westbrook.

Does the offense improve its ball movement, and does that lead to made threes?

We’ll likely revisit this every so often. Maybe every game. The Suns aren’t going to win many games if they can’t hit open three-pointers, or learn to trust one another. Against the Jazz, the ball stuck too often. Bledsoe found himself over-penetrating for forced shots while teams sagged in the lane and off the shooters attempting to spread the floor.

The preseason showed Phoenix could move the ball quite well at times. Yet, Bledsoe and Goran Dragic accounted for 11 of the 15 assists against Utah, when the Suns struggled to get shots. And when they did, they couldn’t knock them down. Shooting 24 percent from three-point range on the season, the Suns will need to move the ball more, and then knock down shots.

It’s likely Dragic is able to return from a right facial contusion suffered in Friday’s game. But the rotation still has question-marks, especially when considering Dionte Christmas proved his dead-eye shooting off the bench.

And 1

Jeff Hornacek on Eric Bledsoe and the team failing to agree upon a contract extension: “These guys are professional basketball players,” Hornacek said. “The contract issues come up, but they know they’re going to get their money at the end of the year. They’re going to play as hard as they can every night, and that’s what makes them great players.”

  • http://none Keith

    OKC looking very vulnerable but they sure have our number lately. Beaten us like 10 times in a row or something. What does Eric do after his beastly fourth quarter heroics? Does Goran play? Can Plumlee keep it up? Can’t wait to find out! Let’s just go out there and win.

  • EBJM

    Thunder are very vulnerable. Going from Harden to Martin to not ready for primetime Jeremy Lamb.

    Plumlee will run Perkins off the court in favor of 20 year old Steven Adams. Collison and Ibaka will kill the Suns on the boards as the Suns desperately need their PFs to start blocking out.

    But Dragic and Bledsoe should just kill Reggie Jackson and Sefolosha.

    Tucker will slow Durant down enough and with Green and Marcus spelling him should be a long night for Durant because the Thunder don’t really have much perimeter depth.

    Suns start the season 3-0!

  • EBJM

    Brett Brown, Carter-Willaims, Hawes, Turner and Young are really pissing off Sam Hinkie. He is thinking about blowing up the team even further.

    Now that is first-class tanking!

  • Jeremiah

    Apparently Westbrook will be back for this game. Granted he will likely be a little out of shape for this one, but he could surprise and have a big day.

  • http://none Keith

    yeah, Westbrook is playing. WTH? Oh well, he shouldn’t play much or be at full strength. We can take ‘em

  • SueB

    Surely, Westbrook will not be in any sort of game shape. Also, sometimes it’s hard for a team to adjust to getting an important piece of their team back. Plus they might expect him to be the usual 100% and have to adjust to it.

    Well, it was always going to be a tough game for these Suns anyway. Hope they continue playing with the nothing-to-lose-and-everything-to-prove attitude of the first two games.

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  • DBreezy

    It’s the Thunder home opener after a bad road loss and Russell is returning. The team should be pumped and their crowd will be rocking as usual with an extra bump when Westbrook enters as he’ll probably come off the bench. You always want to ensure that you get off to a good start on the road, that will likely be especially true tonight.

    PJ will have his hands full. Goran has to make sure that Thabo doesn’t have one of those Raja Bell games where he plays great D one end and squeezes in 12-15pts on the other end off inattentive D. They obviously have to watch the TO’s, but I think the margin may come down to youth. Both sides have a lot of it, and it wouldn’t surprise me if OKC’s youth takes off a bit at home while the Suns potentially falters some. So it should be a 120-95 Suns win….

  • DBreezy

    Edit. Looks like Westbrook will start without restriction tonight according to Coro. Their bench gets stronger either way. Could be a long night for the guards. 1st game or not Westbrook will attack.

  • Smovas

    I will be surprised if in the end, this one is close. I see the teams first defeat.

  • foreveris2long

    Despite a dozen turnovers the Suns are forcing the action in a very competitive game. Frye and Green played huge.

  • Luka

    These refs gift wrapped a game for OKC.

  • foreveris2long

    Suns kept it close despite 25 turnovers. Hope Dragic gets well soon.

  • Luka

    Can we please give Bledsoe his extension now? Then just move Okafor, the Morris twins, and a draft pick for a PF.

  • Azbballfan

    Great game by Bledsoe

    Plumlee had a good game too despite what the box score looks like (zero points, a block, 5 boards in 25 minutes)

    good defense doesnt always show up in the box score

    Frye had a good game too

    Gerald Green was fantastic

    we got basically nothing out of the morris twins

    9 points combined and alot of mid range jumpers.

    No Len due to a sore ankle

    we lost dragic too, hope he is ok

  • Luka

    Markieff just doesn’t have a low post game. He’s not an effective pick and pop guy either with his flat shot. The sooner the twins are gone the better.

    Frye has made some respectable efforts to post up or at least move in for closer shots.

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