Time: 6 pm (local)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
Welcome once again to 31sts with Deadpoolio. To all 11 of you Suns fans still following the team, enjoy the game preview.
The 12-22 Phoenix Suns, losers of six straight games and coming off a 33-point drubbing at the hands of San Antonio last night, meet up with the 22-10 Oklahoma City Thunder in the teams' seemingly annual New Year's Eve get-together in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder come into this game having won 11 of their past 13 games, their most recent being a 131-123 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 29. OKC owns the 3rd-best record in the Western Conference and 4th-best in the NBA behind only Golden State, San Antonio, and Cleveland. At home, the Thunder are 15-4, with a point differential of plus-8.9.
They are led, as usual, by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant ranks third in the NBA in points per game (26.6) while Westbrook is fifth at 25.6. Westbrook also is third in the NBA in assists per game (9.3) and third for most triple-doubles (3) behind Rajon Rondo and Draymond Green (4 each). Dion Waiters has been an ineffectual 6th Man for the Thunder, but his lack of production has been offset by Enes Kanter's 12 points and 8.2 rebounds per game off the bench while owning the fourth-best field goal percentage (.576) in the league.
As a team, the Thunder own a potent offense, ranking second in the NBA in points per game with an average of 108.6 and shooting 47.5 percent from the field (third in the NBA). Their defense isn't too shabby, either. The Thunder are fourth in the league in opponent field goal percentage (43.1) and rank eighth in defensive rating (100.1).
Points: Kevin Durant (26.6)
Rebounds: Enes Kanter (8.2)
Assists: Russell Westbrook (9.3)
The Suns are 4-13 in the month of December and have lost their last six games by an average margin of 13.2 points. They have been so easy to beat that Taylor Swift's Girl Squad is lining up for a crack at them.
The spark generated by the firing of Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi from coach Jeff Hornacek's staff was short lived, with the Suns looking apathetic in their loss to the Spurs. They still surrender a league-high 47 percent from the field to their opponents and allow 37.8-percent shooting from 3-point range (fourth worst) but saw their offense abandon them as well against San Antonio, scoring a season-low 79 points. With Eric Bledsoe out with his biennial meniscus surgery, there is scant hope on the horizon for a turnaround.
Points: Eric Bledsoe (20.4)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (7.6)
Assists: Eric Bledsoe (6.1)
Eric Bledsoe (Suns): left knee surgery (OUT)
Ronnie Price (Suns): right big toe sprain (DOUBTFUL)
The Thunder have won 16 of the last 20 meetings with the Suns and are already 1-0 this season after a 124-103 win on Nov. 8.
Durant averages 27.5 points for his career against Phoenix, and Russell Westbrook isn't far behind at 23.7. Considering Phoenix's defense lately, it is hard to think these players won't at least equal those outputs. In fact, without Bledsoe and likely Price to (somewhat) slow down Westbrook, this game could have Suns fans drinking long before the new year arrives in Phoenix.
As hard as it was to believe a month ago, coach Hornacek (99-99) might actually pick up his 100th loss before his 100th win.
Russell Westbrook vs. Brandon Knight
If Knight really wants the challenge of being the sole point guard, here's his chance to prove he's equal to the task. His defense has been flagging against older and slower point guards, so how he handles a player of Westbrook's caliber will be telling. No one expects him to stop Westbrook, but he does need to take away his direct avenues to the basket. Knight cannot allow him to go wherever he pleases on the court, or the entirety of Phoenix's defense will suffer.
Deadpoolio's (not so) Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by basketball-reference.com)
After this game, the Suns and Thunder will have squared off four times in the last five seasons on New Year's Eve — all in Oklahoma City. The Suns have lost each of the previous three meetings.