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Suns vs Thunder: A Season on the Brink

The Thunder have pushed the Suns all-in, and it is win or go home for Phoenix. If the Suns pull out a win tonight, they remain right in the thick of the playoff race. A loss and you can call it quits, the Suns will be fighting for nothing more than a winning record in the history books.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get one thing good and straight before tonight’s game: If the Suns lose this game they will not make the playoffs. A loss tonight to Oklahoma City puts the Phoenix Suns 4 GB the Western Conference 8th seed and with an OKC win giving them a 3-1 head-to-head tie breaker it would functionally be a five game lead for the Thunder. The Suns would also (likely) be 1.5 GB the Pelicans who face a murderously tough Minnesota Timberwolves team tonight, in the Smoothie King Center (seriously, New Orleans?).

But if the Suns win tonight they are absolutely in contention. Phoenix would tie Oklahoma City in the season head-to-head column and would guarantee themselves the second tiebreaker over OKC if it came down to it. There is no way for the Suns to close the gap on Oklahoma City in terms of record without also taking the lead in the conference record race. New Orleans may get the benefit of playing Minnesota, Los Angeles—not the one with Chris Paul--, and Sacramento but they also still have to play Phoenix between now and the end of the season and their schedule isn’t anything to scoff at… Okay it’s a little bit to scoff at.

Plain and simple, the Suns and their fans still have a season to cheer for if Phoenix wins tonight, even if they would still be the underdogs. If they lose, it’s over. Plug in TJ and Archie for 36 minutes a night, shut down Bledsoe the moment it becomes mathematically impossible, and if Len so much as turns his ankle walking up stairs sit him for the rest of the season.

These are the stakes. Let’s go SUNS!

What Vegas Thinks: ¾ of a Basket (Thunder -1.5, O/U)

I’ve gotta say, I’ve never understood a line where one team is getting 1.5 points. 1.5 points? Some of the closest games I have ever seen have ended with a team losing by more than that. Is there a single person in Vegas who is going to bet on the Suns using the logic "Well, I don’t think Phoenix is going to win, but I think there is a good chance that if they don’t win they can cover." Just call it what it is, a toss-up!

Regardless of my qualms with the ¾ of a basket advantage OKC is getting over the Suns, the over/under on this game is insane in my humble opinion. Suns games have hit the under in 9 of their last 10, and none of those games have gotten within two possessions of 214. Granted, OKC hasn’t been able to defend a pick and roll to save their life and the last Thunder-Suns showdown resulted in 230 points being scored but I am going under all the way with this one. 214 just seems far-fetched given the Suns recent style of play.

Vegas Prediction: Thunder 108 Suns 106

What the National Media Thinks: Nothing rhymes with…

Enes Kanter reminded us that ugly break ups are always funny when they aren’t happening to us. Yesterday Kanter made comments about the Utah Jazz organization and their professionalism, or lack thereof, and professed his love for Oklahoma City. The Jazz have played better without Kanter, and the rim protection duo of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert has been incredibly effective. Kanter has been a daily double-double guy for the Thunder. So why the bad break up? Shouldn’t both parties be happy with their new roster?

Ultimately, last night was just a competition between ex’s for who is better off now that they have broken up. Suns fans should be happy that Enes opened his mouth because apparently Trey Burke took offense and turned into Isaiah Thomas last night. Suns fans should also be happy because this whole ordeal was proof that it isn’t at all strange to get into a spitting contest with guys after they get traded or leave the franchise, a frequent tactic of the Phoenix FO.

Kanter really has no reason to be frustrated with the Jazz. They have a defensive minded coach and Kanter didn’t play a lick of defense and yet he frequently played 25+ minutes a night. The Jazz shouldn’t be frustrated with Kanter either, he was a skilled big man in the post for them and yet they shoved him out to the wings to make room for raw talent in Gobert. These two weren’t a good fit, are both in better positions now that the trade happened, and neither really screwed the other. But break ups are tough, so maybe this will be a fun sideshow story line for years to come.

What Oklahoma City Fans Think: Remember this moment

The biggest story here on Bright Side of the Sun right now is clearly the playoff race, and that is great. There is also Brandon Knight’s impending free agency, the young guns waiting in the wings, Alex Len’s ankles, the Morrii being hilariously and devastatingly frustrating, and Eric Bledsoe’s value versus potential value. These are all great and interesting story lines and how each individual story line plays out will factor into determining the future of the Suns franchise, along with a dozen other story lines we may or may not even know about yet.

All of these stories are absolutely nothing in comparison to Kevin Durant and Kevin Durant’s foot injury and Kevin Durant’s free agency in Oklahoma City. Right now, with a superstar and impending free agent sitting out the remainder of his second to last season under contract and a foot with multiple screws in it being the reason, it is fair for OKC fans to believe their entire franchise hangs in the balance. Without Durant they lose Westbrook just one year later, and then it is all the way back to square one. ALL the way back.

SB Nation brother site Welcome to Loud City has been covering the topic ferociously, with stories such as this and this becoming common place. Big red buttons? The State of the Thunder? The next 14 months are as critical a time for Oklahoma City as any franchise in any sport has experienced in the last decade. Either it works out, the Thunder get to keep two of the NBA’s six best players for another half decade at least, or one of the NBA’s smallest markets goes back to the drawing board. These are the stakes.