What: Phoenix Suns host Oklahoma City Thunder
When: Friday, 7:00 p.m. AZ Time
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
The Suns already lost three times to Oklahoma City in the first 15 games of the season, with and without the Thunder’s best players. Be it Nerlens Noel or Steven Adams in the middle, young center Deandre Ayton has been taken to school on the ways of the NBA.
In the first game on Oct. 28, the Thunder beat the Booker-less Suns without Steven Adams, but got 63 points, 28 rebounds, 12 assists and 11 steals from the trio of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Nerlens Noel.
The Thunder played game two without Westbrook, but Steven Adams and Paul George were tremendous and the Suns went down without much of a fight. Same players, same outcome for game three.
Now on Friday night, rumor has it that Paul George might not play, so the Suns may never get the chance to play the entire Thunder team and yet still will likely go 0-4 against them.
Oklahoma City has 21 wins thanks to their league-best defense. They defend the three (fourth threes, fourth in percentage allowed), steal the ball (first with 10.4 per game), and have behemoth Steven Adams to protect the rim with the best in the game.
Russell Westbrook is finally back healthy, and averaging a triple-double on the season (20/10/10) along with 2.7 steals per game. But he also makes just 24% of his threes and commits 4.6 turnovers per game.
Paul George has been even better this year, putting up MVP-level offensive (26.2 points, 4.3 assists, 39% of 8.7 threes per game) and defensive (8.4 rebounds, 2.2 steals, .7 blocks) numbers each night. Beyond the counting stats, George’s on-ball and off-ball defense are among the league’s best.
In the middle, Steven Adams (the NBA’s Khal Drogo) puts up similar counting numbers to the Suns’ Ayton (16/10/2/1) but also provides incredibly strong picks on one end and excellent post defense on the other.
Despite having the New Zealand Dothraki at center, the Thunder play at the league’s fifth fastest pace to prop their inefficient offense with easy baskets on fast breaks.
Your Suns have won five of seven games, ranking seventh in the league in net rating over that time, which happens to mostly coincide with the return to health of Devin Booker and T.J. Warren, as well as the swap of quicksand Trevor for super-fuel Kelly Oubre, Jr. (The Wizards are 1-3 with Ariza, their only win the triple-overtime against the Suns).
In a recent interview with Alex Kennedy from Hoopshype.com, Suns players provided a few really good quotes about the season’s turnabout in spirit which led to their best road trip in
a thousand years four years.
“It’s us against the world,” Deandre Ayton said.
“You never know when a team can click and something can start working,” Booker said, citing the late-season surge of the Jazz last year and the Heat the year before.
“Everybody is super-dope,” new acquisition Kelly Oubre, Jr., “Everybody comes to work every day with an eagerness to get better.”
“He fits right in,” Ayton said of Oubre.
And then the big comment, coming from Ayton: “Our arena will be lit for the rest of the season, because we’re not trying to stop [winning] anytime soon. We are on the rise.”
The Suns break through and beat the Thunder for the first time all year.