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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns Meet Thunder in OKC

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After a less than impressive opening night loss at home to the Kings, the Suns take the show on the road to face an overhauled Thunder team.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (0-1) at Oklahoma City Thunder (1-0)

When: 5PM AZ Time

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

TV: Fox Sports AZ and NBA League Pass

Radio: AZ Sports 98.7FM and KSUN 1400AM (Spanish)

The excitement of a new season wore off quickly Wednesday night when the Suns started the game versus the Kings so poorly they were down 11 after the first quarter and 19 by halftime. They showed a little more spunk in the second half, playing Sacramento to a push in a 113-94 loss.

This season isn’t about winning for the Suns as much as it’s about player development with youngsters Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and Tyler Ulis, which is good because this team doesn’t figure to do much winning.

Each of those players flashed potential, which at least gave us fans something to hang our hats on. It’s going to be another long season with lots of ugly losses and sloppy play, so take joy where you can and hope for the future.

Meanwhile, the Thunder completed a retool of their roster over the offseason, and it wasn’t of their choosing. After coming oh-so-close to winning the Western Conference, leading the Warriors 3-1, they blew that series, then saw superstar Kevin Durant decide that if he couldn’t beat them, he should join them. He signed with Golden State as a free agent, and there was much sadness in the state of Oklahoma.

Also out are Serge Ibaka (traded) and Dion Waiters, who departed as a free agent. In are Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and rookie Domantas Sabonis. This figures to give the Thunder a little more balance and depth, but it’s obviously never a positive to lose a franchise player in his prime, and the Thunder are no longer contenders.

Russell Westbrook continues to star, and he has every reason to go hog wild with his usage and field goal attempts. Not that he was ever bashful before, but he can cut completely loose now with Durant gone. He’ll easily be the best player on the court, and it would be a major accomplishment if the Suns can hold him below 30 points.

Keys to the Game

If the Suns are to have a chance tonight facing a team which, while not as great as before, still figures to make the playoffs, they’ll have to improve in just about every area of the game from the opener.

For starters, 4-16 from behind the arc won’t cut it for a team which doesn’t have many players who will threaten to score in the paint. That will need to change, and the responsibility should lie with golden child Devin Booker and supposed Sixth Man of the Year candidate Brandon Knight, who each went 0-3 Wednesday.

Alex Len's matchup with Steven Adams will be worth watching when they're on the floor together. Remember the Suns drafted Len at #5 in the 2013 NBA Draft, leaving Adams there for the Thunder to select at #12. So far, Adams has had a much more successful career. Can Len finally start to fulfill some of his fabled "potential"?

The Suns will also need to do a better job protecting the ball (18 TOs Wednesday) and cut way back on the blown defensive assignments. It's all a tall order. Maybe baby steps are what we should be hoping for. The 76ers were able to hang around with the Thunder before finally succumbing 103-97, so it's not impossible.

Likely Starters

PG: Eric Bledsoe vs. Russell Westbrook

SG: Devin Booker vs. Victor Oladipo

SF: T.J. Warren vs. Andre Roberson

PF: Jared Dudley vs. Domantas Sabonis

C: Tyson Chandler vs. Steven Adams

Ray's Pick

Thunder 111, Suns 99