When: 6:00 PM MST Thursday, March 9th
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Watch/Listen: FSN AZ, AZ Sports Radio 98.7 FM
How many of you remember when the Suns beat the Nuggets back on January 19th? It was one of their better performances of the season, a 108-100 victory on the Nuggets home floor (where they are 24-10 this season).
Devin Booker scored 30 (like he tends to do a lot on the road in buildings with actual fans and actual cheering), T.J. Warren chipped in 25 and Isaiah Canaan, pre-brutal ankle injury, added 16 points and six assists off the bench.
Dragan Bender posted three points in 28 minutes.
Those were the good old days. Halcyon, whimsical times.
Since then, the Suns are 2-18.
Fans have resorted to cheering for lottery positioning and competitive losses. That’s all that’s left for hardcore Suns fans.
Thanks to their current stretch of misery and woe, the Suns find themselves in a heated race for the top overall spot in the reverse standings.
Memphis leads the way at 18-46, mired in the midst of a 15-game losing streak, but five other teams sit just one win (20) ahead of the Suns. So, even after everything that has unfolded, a two or three-game winning streak could plummet the Suns from second to seventh. Not really all that savory of a prospect.
Oklahoma City, like their last opponent in the Miami Heat, have no incentive to lose but have found difficulty playing consistent basketball.
They also find themselves in the midst of a pack of teams, but that pack is fighting for playoff berths and positioning.
As it stands now, teams seeded 3-10 in the current Western Conference standings are separated by just four games. The Thunder, who are currently in seventh, sit only 2.5 games out of the third seed, but a mere 1.5 games out of tenth.
After the additions of All-Star Paul George and former All-Star Carmelo Anthony last summer — GM Sam Presti’s attempt to push his chips into the center of the table — the Thunder are in serious danger of not making the playoffs.
Oklahoma City is coming off consecutive losses to the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets and has to be eyeing this next four-game stretch as a chance to solidify their position in the standings.
After tonight, they play the struggling San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings, and Atlanta Hawks. Anything less than 3-1 is probably disastrous because after that they play 11 straight against teams with winning records before closing the season out against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Phoenix and Oklahoma City played a very entertaining game just six days ago, with the Thunder coming out on top 124-116. Russell Westbrook (43 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists) and Booker (39 points, 8 assists) put on a show.
Josh Jackson and Warren helped out with 19 points each and Elfrid Payton stuffed the stat sheet (18 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists).
Bender scored 0 points in 37 minutes.
The Suns actually beat the Thunder 114-100, in one of their best performances of their year, including Bender having one of the best games of his career (20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks).
Phoenix has fared pretty well against Oklahoma City recently, taking two of four last year and splitting the series thus far this season.
Booker will likely need a good game tonight to keep Phoenix close, and two trends reveal there’s a good chance of that happening.
Booker has scored 37, 26 and 39 in his last three games against OKC and 13 of his 21 30+ points outings this season have come on the road.
In a league where many players and teams are better at home, Booker seems to thrive in hostile environments... or maybe he just likes playing in front of engaged crowds.
That doesn’t really epitomize the atmosphere in home games for the Suns lately.
Another shootout is likely incoming as OKC has scored at least 110 in eight of their last ten, while the Suns are currently playing the worst defense... ever?
If the Suns are going to pull an upset tonight, somebody else besides Booker and Warren is going to have to bring their ‘A’ game.
Bender and/or Chriss could really help their cause. Play from the power forward position has been overwhelmingly bad throughout this season, with just occasional glimpses of NBA caliber talent.
The 7’1” Bender, for instance, has just ONE double-digit rebounding effort in 109 career appearances, while the Suns' new point guard, Elfrid Payton, has pulled off the feat FOUR times in just 10 games.
Meanwhile, Chriss has played at least moderately well in back-to-back games for the first time since early January, earning himself more than a handful of DNP’s on a team that is vying for the worst record in the NBA.
Bender (soft game) and Chriss (soft midsection) both have important years coming up if they ever want to prove they can be solid contributors at this level. One or both of them may not have that chance in Phoenix.
GM Ryan McDonough surely has to be contemplating an overhaul at that position.
Hopefully tonight will be another good game.
Westbrook isn’t having an MVP caliber season this time around, but he’s still posting a near triple-double average (25.4 points, 10.2 assists, 9.6 rebounds) and Booker seems to love playing against him.
It’s almost impossible not to predict a loss for the Suns, but based on recent history there’s every reason to anticipate another entertaining Westbrook/Booker showdown.