The Bad Guys: The Oklahoma City Thunder, losers of three straight (@ HOU, vs TOR, @ CHI) and looking to get right at home
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
When: 5:00 PM Arizona Time (bite it, daylight savings)
The Tube: Fox Sports AZ
After six games, the Suns are more or less who we thought they were. The defense and rebounding received the Tyson Chandler bump, as he and young behemoth Alex Len have buoyed the middle and owned the boards. In what has been a true Twilight Zone season thus far, the team is ranked second overall in DRB%, grabbing 83.8% of opponent's missed shots.
The Suns rank around the middle of the pack in most other defensive categories, but their ability to properly close a possession with one of those 'rebound' things has resulted in a sparkling DRtg of 98.1, good for eighth in the league.
But about that offense...
Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight have led the way as expected, combining for 39.3 points per contest. Tyson Chandler's screens and hard dives to the rim have been very effective at times at springing the guards free and finding lobs for himself, but when good defense has taken that away, no one else has been able to step up.
Markieff Morris has continued to look painfully rusty, contributing a PER of 10.6 and a TS% of 41.8. Alex Len is still struggling to develop an offensive game, as should be expected for a 21-year-old center. T.J. Warren might be dealing with a scouting report problem, as the driving lanes and backdoor alleys he found as a rookie suddenly seem to have closed. New backcourt addition Sonny Weems has made all of two field goals on the season, and new frontcourt addition Mirza Teletovic is eager to fire away but is shooting only 26.7% from the field.
The result has been a lot of burden on Bledsoe, Knight and Morris to produce enough offense to complement the defense, and hopefully for Suns fans the answer is simply to wait for Morris's offensive game to round back up to the mean.
Thanks for blowing off those voluntary workouts, Kieff!
Whatever cheat code Russell Westbrook entered last season is still in effect, and Kevin Durant is still Kevin Durant. The problem has been on the defensive side of the ball, where a top-five defense just a couple seasons ago has now plummeted to a DRtg of 106.9, 22nd in the NBA.
There has been some complimentary praise offered to Enes Kanter for his increased effort on the defensive end, but all gold stars aside he is still quite bad at defending anything more mobile than a water fountain, and frankly it's impossible not to link the two.
Other than that, things are largely the same in Thunderland. Their offense would be tops in the league if not for the Warriors, who by all rights should be on an interstellar expedition to find life forms in the universe that could possibly present them with a challenge.
There are Kevin Durant 2016 rumors but no actual news -- and there won't be until the season ends.
They are still trying to replace James Harden by committee, with a revolving door on the wing of Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow and Kyle Singler. Kanter gives them a versatile scorer on the frontline, but the Thunder still depend heavily on the nightly superhuman feats of Westbrook and Durant.
For more on the Thunder, have a gander at our SB Nation sister-site, Welcome To Loud City.
The Suns have a chance in this one as long as they can put Kanter in a position where he has to help contain the backcourt attack of Bledsoe and Knight. Chandler will be instrumental to their chances tonight, so hope against hope that Westbrook and Durant don't put him in foul trouble.
Markieff Morris will have a breakout game at some point, but it probably won't come against Serge Ibaka.
It's hard to see the Thunder dropping their fourth straight in front of their home crowd to a Suns team that is struggling to produce consistent offense, but these teams have given us some very memorable games recently.
There was the Gerald Green game in 2014:
...which was followed closely by the P.J. Tucker game, in which he stole Derek Fisher's lunch money in crunch-time:
Can't forget the overtime shootout on New Year's Eve, when Len and Westbrook squared off:
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/hQiQ2RvkAiQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
And of course, the Great Bledsoe/Westbrook Duel of 2015:
While there have been a couple blowouts by OKC sprinkled in, missing a Suns/Thunder matchup is just sinful. Be sure to tune in for this one.
Prediction: Thunder win in an instant classic, 145-141 (2OT)