Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (46-15), Phoenix Suns (35-25)
Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (103) defeated Phoenix Suns (96).
The Oklahoma City Thunder were dominant in their dismantling of the “tanking” Philadelphia 76ers. Westbrook notched a triple double in near record time, Durant dropped 42pts and 9rebs and didn’t play a minute in the last quarter and the rest of the team got valuable game time and minutes – but that was about it. They will want to switch their focus quickly to the task at hand which is a tough assignment against one of the most surprising teams of the NBA this season – the Phoenix Suns.
Even without star Eric Bledsoe in the lineup (he has been missing with a knee injury since December 30 but is starting to practice and the Suns hope to have him back soon) the Suns have been winning games, and playing a very good brand of basketball under rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek. Goran Dragic has been nothing short of sensational and the system is getting the best out of every member of the Phoenix roster. Players like Gerald Green, the Morris twins, Channing Frye and even PJ Tucker have all found valuable roles and are playing them to perfection.
The Thunder are rolling right now after a sluggish first week post all star break and will be very hard to slow down. They are averaging 118 ppg during their win streak which has now extended to three in a row and it will take a good defensive effort to curtail the offensive output from the Thunder and in particular Kevin Durant.
Russell Westbrook vs Goran Dragic
Westbrook raced to a triple double in just 21 minutes of action against the Sixers. He will have a much tougher challenge this time around though against Goran Dragic who has to be considered for the Most Improved Player award when the season concludes. Dragic can shoot the ball, distribute well and makes you play every minute you are opposing him. Westbrook has shaken off the rust and might see increased minutes as Brooks works him back into unrestricted minutes, so we will get to see two very different but very talent point men go head to head. If Dragic can get in the lane or stretch the defense with his shooting, he can cause headaches for Westbrook and the OKC defenders.
Kevin Durant vs PJ Tucker
These two players need no introduction. Not only did they play together at Texas, Tucker has been used in the past to try and slow down Kevin Durant due to his size, strength and extra length. He will be entrusted with the task again – arguably one of the most difficult in all of basketball as he tries to contain the NBA’s leading scorer. Durant is putting together a season for the ages and turned in a game high 42 points in just three quarters in his last outing. An effective and very efficient scorer and playmaker, Tucker is going to have a very tough time and need a lot of help if he is to have any hope.
The Thunder’s newest recruit made his debut and logged 26 minutes. He hit the stat sheet in every category and will be looking to build on a solid first outing. Will he get the start with Thabo Sefolosha sidelined or will Perry Jones get the nod again? Jones was very effective and his extra size and length is a luxury. As Butler is still learning the playbook, he might once again come off the bench but look for him to play significant minutes in thie one as well.
These are the games that the Thunder have to put away and win on the road. The Suns are a very good team and sitting 7th in the tough Western Conference standings. They will be desperate for a win at home and to keep them in contention for a playoff spot. Oklahoma City must take care of the ball and limit the amount of transition and second chance buckets the Suns get if they want to grab a road win. As good as the Suns are, the Thunder are a more talented team and since they are in red-hot form, they should earn a win away from home. Thunder 106, Suns 89.