Time: 6 p.m. MST
Tickets: Suns vs. OKC Thunder tickets
The phrase must-win has become rather trite in professional sports because its usage is often applied regardless of the situation.
With that said, that is essentially what faces the Phoenix Suns over the remainder of their regular season. The race for the final two spots in the Western Conference has come down to three teams (Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and Suns), creating a margin of error that is slim to none.
Lose a 17-point lead at home against the Los Angeles Clippers. Move on.
Overcome a double-digit deficit on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers. Move on.
The Suns’ treacherous April schedule doesn’t leave room for any rear-view window watching. Every game comes attached with one goal: Survive and advance.
Surviving against Sunday’s opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder, won’t be a cake walk by any means.
Although the Thunder, one of the odds-on favorites to represent the West in the NBA Finals come June, are playing their third game in four nights, Scott Brooks and Co. still have their eyes set on the No. 1 seed.
A loss Sunday in Phoenix coupled with a San Antonio win would all but nix any chance for Oklahoma City to secure home-court advantage throughout the first three rounds of the postseason, so Sunday’s clash means plenty to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and friends.
Here’s a look at three questions that could go a long way in determining the outcome.
Is home really where the heart is?
The 2013-14 season has been full of unforgettable home victories for Phoenix, including its most meeting with Oklahoma City back on March 6 — one that saw the former prevail by a final of 128-122.
However on the campaign, the Suns are just 7-6 when hosting teams currently in the top eight of the Western Conference playoff race.
With only two games remaining inside US Airways Center, will Phoenix play off its home fans as it has done previously against Golden State, Oklahoma City, Portland and San Antonio, or will it sabotage the advantage as it did in Wednesday’s 112-108 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers?
How Green do the Suns go?
Excuse the attempt at a double entendre during the NBA’s Green Week, but in regards to Sunday’s night showdown it does fit to some extent.
Reserve swingman Gerald Green is coming off his best performance since being relegated back to the bench in mid-March, as he poured in 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting in the 109-93 comeback victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Green is also no stranger to having success against the Thunder. After all, the last time these two teams met a month ago, the six-year pro almost single-handedly spurred on the Suns’ second half rally.
Regardless of whether he was defended by Durant, Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson or Reggie Jackson, Green torched Oklahoma City to the tune of a career-high 41 points.
The offensive explosion was so memorable that it was virally reincarnated into NBA Jam form days later.
Is a repeat performance in store for Green?
Will the Suns allow Kevin Durant to pass Michael Jordan?
Allow might not be the operative word Sunday night, because it doesn’t seem to matter what game plans teams try to execute at the defensive end against Durant — at least not since the night of Jan. 5.
Over the last 40 games, the three-time scoring champ has registered at least 25 points in every contest, tying him for the third-longest streak in NBA history along His Airness, Michael Jordan.
To put Durant’s astounding streak in historic context, his mano-a-mano point production with the former six-time MVP comes during the offensive height of the latter’s career (37.1 points per game during the 1986-87 season).
And while 25 has become the bench mark, the Thunder forward has actually averaged close to 35.0 points per game during the streak. In fact in the last 40 games, Durant has surpassed the 30-point mark 19 times, the 40-point mark eight times and the 50-point mark twice.
Having already gone off for 33 and 34 points respectively in two prior meetings with the Suns this season, the second of which occurring within the streak back on March 6, the question remains can P.J. Tucker and Co. keep Durant from leapfrogging arguably the greatest player the game in the league’s history?