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Preview: Phoenix Suns at Oklahoma City Thunder

Welcome to Loud City. The Phoenix Suns arrive in OKC tonight looking to quiet the Thunder on the first half of a road/home set against the team with the second best record in the Western Conference. The Suns would probably rather face the Oklahoma Impact of the United Basketball League, but instead they face the daunting task of toppling one of the teams at the zenith of the NBA pantheon. Hopefully the Suns can make an impact in Oklahoma City.

Isn't that special.
Isn't that special.

When: Friday, February 8, 2013, 6:00 PM local time (8:00 EST)

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR


Last Meeting:

The first meeting between the teams this season was in Oklahoma City on December 31, 2012. The Thunder rang in the New Year by ringing the Suns bell 114-96. Oklahoma City used a 30-18 fourth quarter to turn a fairly competitive game into a laugher. Even though the score was close through three quarters, though, it seemed that the Thunder were coasting and then turned on the afterburners.

Russell Westbrook went for 24 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 stitches in the game and all-everything teammate Kevin Durant scored 30 points despite PJ Tucker's incessant defense. Luis Scola led the Suns with 24 points and Goran Dragic had 16 points and 8 assists, albeit alongside 5 turnovers.

Team Bios:

Oklahoma City: 37-12

Points per game: 106.2 (1st) Points allowed: 97.4 (15th) -- Full team statistics

The Thunder enter this game having gone just 5-4 over their last nine games, which, ironically enough, is only one game better than the Suns over that stretch. Oklahoma City's recent losses have all been away from the Energy Arena, however, where they are 22-3 on the season. Oklahoma City's last loss at home was on January 2nd against the Brooklyn Nets.

Kevin Durant is having an MVP season. He leads the league in scoring (29.3) and is pacing for a 50/40/90 season while doing so. Durant displays his versatility by also ranking second on the team in rebounds, assists and blocks. Russell Westbrook is Durant's fearless sidekick, ranking in the top 10 in the league in scoring (7th), assists (5th) and steals (4th). Westbook is the only player in the league in the top 10 in those three categories. The next closest is LeBron James, who is no lower than 13th in the same areas.

Durant and Westbrook are truly Thunder Buddies.

Besides the dynamic duo, OKC's roster is filled out with very good complementary players. Serge Ibaka is fourth on the team in scoring (13.8), first in rebounding (8.1) and first in blocks (2.9 - second in the NBA) and Kevin Martin supplies instant offense off the bench and is lights out from three.


Phoenix Suns: 17-33

Points per game: 95.3 (20th) Points allowed: 99.6 (22nd) -- Full team statistics

The Suns are still getting their bearings after a midseason coaching change. Head coach Lindsey Hunter (defense) and lead assistant Igor Kokoskov (offense) are working in concert to educate players on the nuances of new schemes and acclimate the team to rotational changes.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. After a 2-0 start to the "Lindsey Hunter era" of Suns basketball the team has lost five of their last seven games. The mercurial nature of the team is not unprecedented, as the Suns have had many come from behind victories this season. The simple truth is that role players tend to be inconsistent and the Suns consist completely of role players. To illustrate the erratic play, in six of the nine games during Hunter's early tenure the Suns have outscored their opponents by at least ten in the fourth quarter three times (wins) and been outscored in the fourth quarter by at least ten three times (losses). Fickle indeed.

The Suns have allowed 90 points per game in their four wins. In the losses they've allowed 106.6. It's been very hard to gauge which incarnation of the Suns will show up on any given night. What's become readily apparent, though, is that Hunter has made Michael Beasley and rookie Kendall Marshall part of the regular rotation. However, it remains to be seen whether this current trend will crystallize or more permutations are in store in the coming days.


What To Watch For:

The Evolution of Marshall: After playing his best game as a Sun against the Grizzlies, Kendall regressed in an underwhelming performance against the Hornets. That's to be expected for a rookie that's just now getting his first real burn of the season. It's nice to see that Marshall has finally been unleased, though, because if a team can't play their lottery pick during the course of a lost season... well, let's just say it's not good.

Russell Westbrook: For the Suns to have a chance in this game they will need to make Westbrook a volume scorer. If he gets 24 points on 21 shots, mission accomplished. If he gets 24 points on 15 shots it is hard to envision a scenario where the Suns win. The problem is that the Suns don't really appear to have anyone capable of guarding Westbrook in any effective capacity. If Westbrook flounders it may have more to do with Westbrook than the Suns defense.

Stepping Up: Durant and Westbrook have a very high likelihood of stepping up for the Thunder. Even some of their worst games are in line with better than average performances by Suns starters. But who will bring it for the Suns? Beasley and Dragic have been the main culprits lately, but it would be fortuitous for another member of the Suns to have a spectacular performance.


2013 Lottery Watch

The Suns are currently in 7th place (by virtue of holding the tie breaker against the Kings) in the race for the #1 seed in the lottery. Currently, seeds 4-9 are only separated by 2.5 games.

The Lakers are still on the outside looking in and trail the Rockets by 3.5 games after a 116-95 loss last night at Boston. The Lakers 13th pick would be transferred to the Suns if the season ended today.

Tonight's Games of Interest:

Nets (29-20) @ Wizards (13-35)

Lakers (23-27) @ Bobcats (11-37)

Raptors (17-32) @ Pacers (31-19)

Hornets (16-33) @ Hawks (27-21)

Spurs (39-11) @ Pistons (18-32)

Magic (14-35) @ Cavaliers (15-34)


The Final Word(s):

A win will easily be the Suns best victory of the season. A loss will improve lottery seeding. The game provides Suns fans the opportunity to see their team match up against two of the most salient stars in the NBA. The early start time allows locals to hit the town after the game. I'm doing game coverage.

What a perfect storm of perfectness. A storm where the Suns hope to bring the thunder.

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