Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder (46-15) at Phoenix Suns (35-25)

Time: 7 p.m. MST

TV: FSAZ

Suns

Suns

Thunder

Thunder

The Phoenix Suns should be offended by tonight’s TV schedule. The TNT doubleheader starts off with a rematch of last year’s Finals between the Heat and the Spurs. That’s a game totally worthy of national TV. But that sure-to-be-intense battle is followed up with a surefire blowout between the Clippers and Lakers. Now in fairness, the Lakers and Clippers have always played good games going back to when the Clippers were still the little brother in the Staples Center and the Lakers were winning titles. But this time around, the matchup is so one-sided, I can’t imagine anything but a 20+ point win for the Clip Show. And no matter how that game goes, there’s no chance it’s more exciting than the run-and-gun Suns taking on the Western Conference leading Thunder.

Both Oklahoma and Phoenix come into this game missing players due to injury. For the Suns, Miles Plumlee is questionable with a knee strain, and Leandro Barbosa will be out 4-6 weeks with a broken hand. The Thunder will be without big man Kendrick Perkins who is recovering from groin surgery as well as wing defensive stopper Thabo Sefalosha.

OKC is coming off a six-game home stand that happened to coincide with Russell Westbrook’s return from injury. They dropped the first three games, but have won three straight heading into tonight. The Suns will be their stiffest test since their home loss to Miami coming out of the All-Star break. Phoenix is in the middle of brutal stretch of opponents and needs to salvage at least one victory if they hope to remain in the West playoff picture over the next week.

The Suns haven’t beaten Oklahoma City since December 19th, 2010. In the intervening time, they’ve lost 11 straight time to the Thunder. But this is not the same Thunder team. James Harden is gone. Their defensive bruisers are hurt. Russell Westbrook is still getting his sea legs. This is also not the same Suns team. Phoenix is fast, tough, and not afraid of any team in the NBA. The Suns may be a long shot in this one, even on their home floor, but as last night’s Pacers-Bobcats game proves, long shots can sometimes pay off in convincing fashion. For more on this game, let’s ask three preview questions.

Which rookie center will have the better night?

This has been an interesting season for Alex Len and Steven Adams. Len, the higher draft pick, missed a bunch of time due to injury and is only recently seeing regular minutes. Adams, on the other hand, has been contributing for the Thunder from the start. Both big men are still raw and both have impressive foul rates. Adams is committing 8.5 fouls per 48 minutes. Not to be outdone, Len is committing 9.6. Both are getting a chance to start because of injuries. Their battle will be an interesting one to watch. Adams is fiery and gets under opponents’ skin. Len is more reserved, and would be wise not to get into it with Adams. The biggest contribution Len can make in this game is rebounding. If he can give the Suns 20 good minutes of rebounding on both ends of the floor, Phoenix will be in excellent position to defend their home court.

Can Goran carry the scoring load?

Dragic was bottled up a bit by the Clippers on Tuesday. After doing battle with CP3 two days ago, he faces another tough point guard in Russell Westbrook. It’s possible that Dragic won’t defend Westbrook, leaving that instead to Gerald Green. But in that case, Dragic has to find ways to score. Without Perk to slow them down, Oklahoma City will play fast and try to run up the score. The Suns won’t be able to keep pace unless Dragic has another 20+ point game. Westbrook is a tough defender, but Goran has proven himself capable of scoring at will no matter who is guarding him.

Can the Suns keep Ibaka from having a big night?

Power forwards have been lighting it up against Phoenix as of late. Kevin Love had 33 points in Phoenix. Anthony Davis had 32. Blake Griffin had 22 point in an off night, and even Atlanta’s Mike Scott dropped 20 points in a loss. Power forward is a defensive liability for Phoenix. If the Suns hope to keep pace and have a chance to win this contest, they cannot let Ibaka have a big game. The Suns can overcome 50 or 60 combined points from Westbrook and Durant, but a 20-point game from Serge might be a bridge too far.

Tags: Goran Dragic Oklahoma City Thunder Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Preview

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