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Game Preview: Suns face rolling Thunder

Both Suns and Thunder are on 3+ game winning streaks.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Oklahoma City Thunder (11-19) at Phoenix Suns (25-5)

When: 7:00 PM AZ time

Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: Bally Sports AZ

Listen: 98.7 FM


The OKC Thunder come to Phoenix soaring off a blowout of the Denver Nuggets IN DENVER, to knock the Nuggets to 15-15 on the season. This after beating the Clippers and Grizzlies over the past week. They have a three-game winning streak on the line tonight against the Suns.

The Phoenix Suns host the Thunder after walloping the LA Lakers IN LA, to knock the Lakers to 16-16 on the season. This after beating the Blazers, Wizards and Hornets over the past week. They have a four-game winning streak on the line tonight against the Thunder.

And that’s about all these two teams have in common this year.

The Thunder are enjoying a very good stretch of basketball after an 8-19 start with a roster that profiles like an 8-19 start, while the Suns are cruising on 25 wins in 30 games and already have an 18-game winning streak (longest in the 54-year franchise history) in the books this season.


Probable Starting Lineups

Health Update

Both teams, as of this morning, are relatively healthy. The Thunder have put Mike Muscala on the inactive list for ‘rest’, while the Suns are missing their usual suspects: Abdel Nader, Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric all have knee issues.

No other injury or health issues reported.


Recent Suns-Thunder Connections

  • Suns G Chris Paul played the 2019-20 with OKC, earning All-NBA 2nd Team honors while leading the Thunder to the 5 seed in the West
  • Paul and Suns F Abdel Nader were dealt to Phoenix on 11/16/2020 in a trade that sent, among others, current Thunder G Ty Jerome to OKC
  • Suns G Cameron Payne was selected 14th overall by OKC in 2015 and played 77 games with the Thunder over his first 2 seasons, averaging 5.1 points
  • Suns head coach Monty Williams was associate head coach with OKC in 2015-16
  • Suns assistant coach Mark Bryant was an assistant coach with OKC from 2007-2019, moving with the team from Seattle
  • Thunder G Luguentz Dort went to Arizona State

Thunder Notes

As mentioned above, the Thunder are cruising right now with wins over three playoff-quality teams in their last three games. They are doing it with defense: in that small sample size of ‘last three games’, the Thunder have posted the third-best defense among the 30 NBA teams.

Offensively, their biggest threat by a mile is combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the former late-lottery pick from the 2018 Draft who got one of those max extensions (5 years, $172+ million) last offseason that the Suns refused to give Deandre Ayton.

SGA is a borderline All-Star, averaging 21.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists this season, but because he plays on a bad team he probably won’t get the nod. His numbers are a bit below Booker’s from 2018-19, who STILL hasn’t gotten in on voting among fans, players, media or coaches (hopefully that changes this season for Book). It’s possible SGA gets in thanks to early-career playoff chances with the Clippers and Thunder, but he wasn’t a star for either of those teams at the time.

Next to SGA is Lu Dort, who you’ll remember as the former ASU player turned exciting rookie who defended Harden quite well when the Chris Paul-led Thunder made the playoffs in 2020. Dort is putting up 17 points per game this season on low efficiency.

Another young player to watch is rookie Josh Giddey, averaging 11 points, 6 assists and 7 rebounds per game. Giddey has that all-around game that could beat you in a number of ways.

All three have stepped up even bigger during their three-game winning streak and need to be given proper respect, or the Suns could be their fourth victim in a row.


Suns Notes

The Suns are a league-leading 25-5 despite missing one or both of their two leading scorers — Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton — for almost half (13) of those 30 games.

The keys are defense, depth, and All-Star and MVP candidate Chris Paul.

The Suns have improved on the defensive end this year, ranking 2nd overall in the league. They are 11-0 when holding opponents under 100 points, and 22-0 when holding them under 110 points.

Behind point guard Chris Paul, they have spread the wealth on offense to an unprecedented degree. At this moment, the Suns have EIGHT players averaging at least 10 points per game this season, including SEVEN active players (the 8th is Frank).

I’m not even talking individual games here. Sure, they marked only the second time in franchise history last week with back-to-back games of 8+ players in double figures. I’m talking 30 games here. The Suns have eight players averaging 10+ points on the season!

Seven Suns scored in double figures Tuesday, as Phoenix moved to 17-1 on the year when six or more players score 10+ points each.

Cam Johnson extended his career-long streak to 10-straight games of scoring 10+ points Tuesday and is currently tied with Stephen Curry for the longest active streak of 2+ 3FG in the NBA (13-straight).

On Tuesday, Devin Booker surpassed 2,000 assists for his career, becoming the 6th-youngest player in league history to 9,000 career points and 2,000 assists (25 years, 52 days). The only players in NBA history younger than Booker to reach that milestone are Kobe Bryant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tracy McGrady, LeBron James and Gilbert Arenas.

Oh, one more thing: Devin Booker has yet to lose a game as a 25-year old. The Suns are 19-0 in games played since 10/30/2021.


Prediction

The Suns should win this one fairly easily. The Thunder had a great win last night, but on the second night of a back to back against a rested Suns they will have a tougher time pulling out a win.