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Preview: Wounded Suns head to Oklahoma City for pivotal matchup

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Injuries are starting to pile on the Suns now.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns at Oklahoma City Thunder

When: 6:00 p.m. AZ time

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


The Phoenix Suns (11-16) head into Oklahoma City to face the Thunder (13-14) in a pretty bad position. Deandre Ayton will be sitting out this game due to an ankle sprain, Devin Booker is questionable to return from his arm injury and the team is on a four-game losing streak. Meanwhile, the Thunder have been playing strong basketball, winning back to back games from 20+ point deficits. Will the Suns be able to rally among their healthy players and pick up a win?

Phoenix Suns

10th in offensive rating (109.9), 18th in defensive rating (109.3), 13th in net rating (0.6)

It feels like whenever things are looking up for the Suns, fate has a way to take it down. The first game Ayton comes back from suspension, he suffers a sprain ankle. The team has been snake-bitten with injuries and could be potentially missing Booker for his fourth straight game. The team has suffered three single digits losses before getting embarrassed by the Clippers Tuesday so the team has been struggling as of late.

Scoring duties will fall to Kelly Oubre Jr. once again with Booker questionable and hasn’t truly risen as the primary scorer, averaging 18.5 ppg in the last four games. It’s a 0.8 ppg increase but it’s only good enough for 51th in the league. He has been playing extremely hard on both sides of the court and without a doubt the heartbeat of the team but he hasn’t risen to that clear cut scorer with Booker out.

The entire offense has struggled with Booker out as the offensive rating drops from 10th to 26th if it’s just the last four games. Rubio, like Oubre, needs to elevate his game if the Suns want to come out of Oklahoma with a win. Rubio has done well in the last four games, averaging 10.8 apg, best in the league, while scoring 15.3 ppg. He’s been running the offense successfully all season long but for the foreseeable future, he needs to kick his performance to the next gear.

The Suns are a wounded animal but a wounded animal can be extremely dangerous when surrounded. The team is free-falling currently but if Oubre and Rubio rise up, they can perhaps get the team back on track.

Oklahoma City Thunder

18th in offensive rating (107.6), 13th in defensive rating (107.1), 14th in net rating (0.5)

For a team that looked to be tanking and building for the future this offseason, the Thunder have been playing well so far this season. The team isn’t built around one star but a team with plenty of quality veterans led by Chris Paul, and a young buck in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Alexander has done well so far this year, leading the team in points per game with 18.1 along with averaging 5.1 rebounds per game and three assist per game. He’s made a significant jump from last year in Los Angeles to this year which is good considering he was a big part of that Paul George trade.

The rest of OKC’s roster isn’t tearing the league apart but they’re doing well enough to stay in the playoff hunt. The other player in that Paul George trade, Danilo Gallinari, is right by Alexander with 17.9 ppg while also collecting 5.7 rpg. Dennis Schroder doesn’t start for the team but he’s been an excellent 6th man, averaging 17.5 ppg while Paul has 16.3 ppg and 6.3 apg. That backcourt is vital for the team’s success as each of them play tough defense while making keeping the offense rolling given the lack of a superstar to put them over the top. Steven Adams’ scoring output has dipped a little bit from last year (13.9 to 11.2) but he’s still leading the team in rpg with 9.6 and he’s still playing strong defense in the paint.

The Thunder aren’t a title contender but this squad isn’t just lying down and tanking. OKC is playing hard and grinding out wins, keeping pace in a deep Western playoff race. While Paul isn’t the same player as he was in Los Angeles, he’s still a savvy veteran who can help mold Alexander into a star while also keeping them competitive at the same time.

Prediction

The Suns are injured and riding a four game losing streak. Phoenix just doesn’t have the legs or momentum to pick up a win tonight, not against a veteran team like the Thunder who’re looking to keep building on their own winning streak. If the Suns come out fired up from their embarrassing loss to the Clippers and Booker returns, there’s a good chance the team can win but I don’t anticipate that to happen.

Thunder 110, Suns 100