Suns @ Thunder
- Records: PHX 2-0; OKC 1-1 (Who saw that coming?)
- TV: NBA TV (one of Phoenix's few games on national TV)
- Radio: KTAR 620 (The venerable Al McCoy is always a great option if you can't watch the game)
- Time: 5 p.m. AZT, 6 p.m. CST, 7 p.m. EST (It's daylight savings time everyone not in Arizona; set your clocks back i you haven't already)
The Suns have gotten off to a great start this season, although they haven't faced the stiffest of competition. The Suns opened the season with a double-digit win over a Portland Trail Blazers squad who wasn't ready for opening night. The DragonBlade bakcourt looked dominant while Miles Plumlee came out of nowhere to post a huge double-double.
Things went much less smoothly against the Utah Jazz on Friday, but the Suns still managed to come out on top thanks to some late heroics by Eric Bledsoe. Dragic and Bledsoe both struggled mightily early one, and the Dragon took an early exit after a collision with P.J. Tucker led to a facial contusion. After scoring just one point through three quarters, Bledsoe exploded for 17 in the fourth including the game winning three right in Gordon Hayward's eye with less than a second remaining.
The Thunder's first game went much like the Suns' second, as they pulled out a close win over the Jazz thanks to a big fourth quarter by Kevin Durant. Durant had 42 points, including 15 in the final period, and got just enough help from his supporting cast (14 each from Reggie Jackson and Thabo Sefolosha) to get the job done.
However, things got out of hand early against Minnesota and the Thunder never got back into the game. Durant finished with just 13 points while Jackson turned the ball over seven times and scored just eight points.
Previewing the Suns
The Suns' early success has had a lot to do with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, which isn't a surprise at all. However, it's the unexpected production that is leading to these wins. Miles Plumlee has had double-doubles in both games, averaging 14 rebounds per game and showing off a nice array of skills offensively. P.J. Tucker, better known for his defense, rebounding and all-around hustle, has been a potent scorer early on with 18 and 12 points in the two games. Even Dionte Christmas, who made his debut after sitting out game one, came up huge for the Suns by hitting a couple of shots that got the team going in the second half (he finished with nine points, four rebounds and a game-high +17).
However, while these guys have been a pleasant surprise, the Suns have struggled mightily from 3-point range as most expected them to. Phoenix has shot a combined 10-41 (24.4 percent) from deep in two games. P.J. Tucker (he of the trebuchet shooting motion) has been the Suns' best shooter while Channing Frye has understandably struggled with his shot. The Suns are going to have to start hitting some shots if they want to keep winning games.
Previewing the Thunder
*UPDATE: RUSSELL WESTBROOK HAS BEEN CLEARED TO PLAY TONIGHT*
The Thunder have been without superstar point guard Russell Westbrook so far this season while he continues to recover from injury,
and that will be the case again in this game. Reggie Jackson played pretty well in his place during the playoffs after Westbrook went down, and played well in the opener. But he was a train wreck in their last game. Serge Ibaka has also been unable to get it going early in the season as he has yet to reach double figures in scoring and has shot 7-28 from the field. Second-year guard Jeremy Lamb hasn't even been as good off the bench as Kevin martin was last year, let alone James Harden. They needed Durant to go off for 40 in order to reach 100 points. That team is designed for Durant and Westbrook to score more than half the team's points, and without Westbrook this team is very beatable.
- G: Eric Bledsoe -
Reggie JacksonRussell Westbrook
- G: Goran Dragic** - Thabo Sefolosha
- SF: P.J. Tucker - Kevin Durant
- PF: Channing Frye - Serge Ibaka
- C: Miles Plumlee - Kendrick Perkins
Dragic's status is unknown at this time; if he is held out I'm guessing Gerald Green gets the start and we see both Ish Smith and Dionte Christmas again. We'll update you when we know more. Per Paul Coro, Dragic is fine to play and left the last game early because the facial contusion inhibited his vision. No concussion as some had feared.
Match-ups to Watch
Bledsoe vs. Jackson: Eric Bledsoe needs to shut down Jackson and prevent him from going off for 20 or more points while also being the driving force for the Suns' offense; this becomes even more important if Dragic can't go or is limited.Forget this one. It would be nice if Bledsoe still shuts down Jackson, but shutting down Westbrook is much more important. It's a match-up of two of the most athletic point guards in the game and should be a lot of fun.
- Tucker vs. Durant: No matter what the result ends up being, seeing these two go at it should be fun. Tucker plays a very physical brand of defense and Durant is one of the very best scorers in the league. Without Westbrook, Durant has to do even more and Tucker is going to make that tough for him.
- Frye vs. Ibaka: Ibaka has had a nightmare start offensively, and that is going to have to continue if the Suns want to win. They can't afford for Ibaka to get good looks and go off for 20 points. On the other end, Ibaka is one of the best shot-blockers in the game and loves to hang out in the paint and cover for his teammates. If Ibaka leaves Frye to go protect the rim, Frye is going to have to find his stroke and make him pay.
- Alex Len vs. Steven Adams: This is an intriguing match-up of talented yet raw rookie centers. Len has only played 21 minutes and recorded five points (2-4 shooting, 1-2 from the line), three rebounds, two blocks and seven personal fouls. He has struggled to adjust to the NBA game and find chemistry with his teammates. Adams, on the other hand, has played almost 42 minutes and has produced 10 points (4-11 shooting, 4-7 free throws), 11 rebounds, one block and eight fouls. Neither guy has quite figured it out at this point, but it will be interesting to see if and how much they match up head-to-head in this game.
Key to the Game
I detailed the Thunder's offensive struggles above; the Suns need to play solid team defense and prevent the supporting cast from giving Durant the support he needs. If they can hold Ibaka and Jackson in check, the Suns should have a very good chance at 3-0. Disciplined, fundamental team defense is going to be the key in this game.