Suns (0-1, 0-0 road) vs. Thunder (1-0, 0-0 home)
TV: FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 100.5 (20th), Suns – 97.0 (24th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 93.3 (5th), Suns – 111.4 (24th)
In years’ past, when the Oklahoma City Thunder got down to an inferior opponent, you could usually count on Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant waking up at some point in the game and willing the team to victory. But without Durant, there was a little bit of anxiety as the Thunder found themselves down by 6 points to the Philadelphia 76ers with 5:30 minutes to play. The Philly crowd was roaring, the young team had momentum, and a savior was being revealed to the 76ers faithful with every passing minute in the form of Joel Embiid.
But Russell Westbrook kept his cool and the team followed suit. From the 5:30 mark on, the Thunder outscored the Sixers 22-10, finishing the game with a 103-97 victory. The Thunder won the 4th quarter with two things: defense and balanced scoring. Russell Westbrook scored 9 points in those final minutes, but it wasn’t overbearing. He wasn’t forcing things and let the game come to him. That is the one thing I worried about when it came to Westbrook and closing games. He has a tendency to shoulder too much of the load when the game tightens up, and the results from that haven’t always been positive. Instead, he found his teammates when they were open, and they rewarded him by doing some good things in those final 5 minutes. Victor Oladipo, who struggled terribly the entire game, scored 6 points in a variety of ways. Enes Kanter scored 4 points on put-backs, and Steven Adams and Andre Roberson contributed from the free throw line.
It was just one game, but the Thunder found a way to get a win. That’s the way it’ll likely to play out this season. The Thunder will win some games they have no business winning, but also lose some they shouldn’t. In the end, there’ll probably be a lesson to be learned after every game, and a coach like Billy Donovan will take advantage of teaching such a young roster.
This is the first of four meetings between the Thunder and Suns. The Thunder swept the season series last year, winning each game by an average of 13.7 points. Meetings between these two teams have been contentious in the past, with Westbrook usually getting into it with PJ Tucker or Alex Len.
The Suns come into this game with a 0-1 record, having lost their first game to the Sacramento Kings at home. The Suns find themselves in the beginning stages of a complete rebuild. They have a vast array of young talent, but also have pricey veterans that could net some nice assets if, and when, the Suns decide to pull the trade trigger.
The future of this team rests in the hands of Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss. Booker, a shooter in the Steph Curry mold, is able to make shots from nearly anywhere on the floor, while Bender and Chriss are the prototypical new age big men, with the ability to score from inside and out. When healthy, Eric Bledsoe is one of the most dynamic point guards in the league. On the wing, TJ Warren gives the Suns a big body that can score in bunches from the mid-range. Up front, Tyson Chandler and Alex Len give the Suns what Bender and Chriss can’t yet provide to the team: a post presence, with the ability to grab rebounds and defend inside.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Post defense
The Suns have the personnel to play various styles with their stable of big men. At this point in their careers, Bender and Chriss are more stretch big men than interior post players. Conversely, Chandler and Len make their living on the inside. While the Thunder were able to stick with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter during critical stretches of their game against the 76ers, they likely won’t be able to do that in this game. That means players like Ersan Ilyasova, Domantas Sabonis, and maybe even Kyle Singer, likely will have a greater impact on this game than they did in the previous one.2. Drawing fouls
The mark of a young team usually isn’t defensive discipline. That was in full display in the Suns’ first game, as they committed 29 fouls and allowed 26 free throws. If Westbrook and the rest of the offense remains aggressive in this game, the Thunder may find a copious amount of points at the free throw line.3. Devin Booker
In this, his second season, Booker looks to make the leap from promising young player to borderline All-Star. His ability to score anywhere on the floor gives him the opportunity to be an offensive threat once he passes the half-court line. In the final 23 games of the year last season, Booker averaged 21.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 4 assists. He wasn’t very effective from the field during that stretch (40% FG, 28.5% 3pt FG), but got to the free throw line an average of 5.5 times per game.