When: Saturday, December 17th, 2016, 3:00 local time (5:00 EST)
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Watch/Listen: TV: Fox Sports Arizona Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
The Phoenix Suns (8-18) faced off against the Oklahoma City Thunder (15-11) in their second game of the season back on October 28th and lost a thriller in OT 113-110. T.J. Warren probably had his best game as a Sun in the loss, going for a career high 30 points on 13-18 from the field while pulling down 9 rebounds.
Some guy named Russell Westbrook had 51 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Thunder. It was the first time a player had scored 50 points in a triple double since some other guy named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it back in 1975.
The Suns have now lost five straight contests to the Thunder after beating them in OT 117-113 on February 26, 2015.
The Thunder will be happy to be back at home after back to back blowout losses on the road to Portland and Utah. OKC has now lost three of four after stringing together six straight wins. The Thunder are 10-5 at home this season and enjoy one of the best homecourt advantages in the league.
While Westbrook is still on pace to average a triple double (30.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 10.6 assists) he is coming off of a pair of unspectacular performances (at least by his standards) where he combined to shoot 14-44 (.318) from the field. He is now shooting just .420 from the field on the season.
Victor Oladipo is the second option on offense, averaging 16.1 points per game and shooting .381 from three point range. Oladipo has been struggling with a sprained right wrist and it is unclear if he will play. Steven Adams averages 11.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while providing a physicality that has cleverly evaded Alex Len for most of his career.
But let’s face it. This is the Russell Westbrook show.
People wouldn’t know it if they haven’t been paying close attention, but the Suns have actually been playing some decent basketball lately.
Phoenix is 2-2 in their last four games with wins over the Lakers and Knicks (OT) and losses to the Pelicans (OT) and Spurs. The Suns actually led the Spurs 77-76 early in the fourth quarter of their most recent contest before falling apart down the stretch.
Eric Bledsoe went on a tear, scoring 30 or more points in three straight games, before cooling down against San Antonio. P.J. Tucker has been indomitable, stultifying Anthony Davis (4-17 FG) and Carmelo Anthony (3-15 FG) in back to back games. Tyson Chandler just recorded consecutive 20+ rebounds games.
Unfortunately, besides P.J. it doesn’t seem like many other Suns have a penchant for defense as the Suns rank 24th in DRtg. Likewise, besides Bledsoe the other Suns have struggled to score and the team sits at 23rd in ORtg. Being in the bottom third of the league in both offense and defense makes a team well... yeah.
Devin Booker is second on the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game, but is in danger of slipping below 40% from the field and could really use a good game.
T.J. Warren has now missed 13 games with a “head injury”... the exact nature of which seems to be one of the world’s best kept secrets. Warren’s return status appears to be more of a day-to-day basis at this point, but as of now there is no news that he will play against the Thunder. Alex Len is also questionable with a hip contusion.
What To Watch For:
Eric Bledsoe vs. Russell Westbrook.
Russell Westbrook vs. anyone is a pretty entertaining matchup, but he and Bledsoe have really gone after each other a few times.
I would pretty much expect Westbrook to notch a triple double, but the key with him is forcing him into becoming a high volume, low efficiency scorer and playing hero ball.
Some of the more entertaining Suns games over the past few years have been against OKC. If the teams can come close to matching the fireworks from their first game you won’t want to miss it.
Look for another high scoring, frenetic and free wheeling game as the Suns are second in the league in pace and the Thunder clock in at seventh.
The Final Word(s):
Love him or hate him, Westbrook is one of the most breathtaking players to watch in the NBA right now. Hopefully the Suns can keep up their recent level of play and get on the right side of another game that goes right down to the wire.