Is there such a thing as a must win game in December? Tonight might be the closest thing we get to that as the Phoenix Suns take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City (5pm, FOX Sports AZ, 98.7 FM).
This is quite a dangerous 10-13 team. With the injuries to both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, some hypothesized that the Thunder could miss the playoffs because of how insanely competitive the Western Conference is. There weren't any definite return dates for either and I personally only expected to see Westbrook in this game a month ago, but Durant is already been back for six games already and Westbrook seven. The Thunder are 5-1 since Durant's return, but this included wins over the Sixers, Pistons (LOL), and the Timberwolves.
Despite their two superstars missing a lot of time, the Thunder have still produced the best defense in the NBA in terms of points allowed at 94.3. Their 94.7 PPG (25th) will surely go up with Durant and Westbrook back. They are simply one of the best teams in the NBA and know how important tonight's game is. They also remember the Suns thrilling win last year and will seek revenge for that in case they need any more extra motivation. A legitimate home court advantage will keep them ready to strike and I am not optimistic about the Suns chances.
Oh boy... where to start? The Suns have lost four straight and are coming off of the most demoralizing loss of the season against the Pistons, who were 3-19 before their win on Friday. The Suns have dropped several winnable games so far and perhaps the biggest thing to come out of this stretch has been how on fire the top of the Western Conference has been. The Clippers slow start has had them come out and win nine straight before last night's loss, Houston keeps winning despite injuries to a team with not a ton of depth, and Portland has 18 freaking wins already. In short, the Suns are 4 ½ games out of the 7 seed and it currently looks like they will have to battle off the Thunder for the 8 seed.
The one thing that jumped out to me in the games where the Suns looked like last year's team is that they really attacked the basket. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe are called the Slash Brothers for a reason. They are among the elite in regards to finishing at the rim and when they are consistently bringing the ball inside they make this team better. I'm not blaming them by any means, it's just what I see. A game like the Dallas win was a perfect example of how dangerous the Suns can be. Let's hope they look that way tonight.
The Suns are 3-0 this season when Gerald Green leads all scorers. They were 9-0 when he did this last season, including his 41 point barrage against this Thunder team at home. He was ice cold on Friday so I expect a big performance out of him.
The Suns average margin of defeat when I recap games is 26. I am attempting a jinx of sorts here and hope this doesn't play any factors. It's just a warning though.
The Thunder have beaten zero current playoff teams in the West this season and have only beaten two current playoff teams in the East (Milwaukee, Cleveland).
I think the Thunder are looking for their first signature win of the season with both of their superstars back and I think this will be it. The Suns will
surely hopefully be motivated after a brutal home loss and tend to play the Thunder well. They like to show up for big games as the brutal Clippers loss showed. Durant and Westbrook will be far too much to handle though and I expect a big loss.