3 teams that could give the Thunder trouble in first round of playoffs

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers
Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages
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Phoenix Suns

A few nights back, the Phoenix Suns gave the Denver Nuggets just their sixth home loss of the season, a little reminder for the rest of the league that the Suns can be a contender.

The scoring output of Durant, Booker, and Beal is as strong as any trio across the NBA. Sure, their bench is spotty, but rotations will tighten in the playoffs, leaving a superstar on the floor at any given time for the Suns. 

That is, of course, if the stars are healthy.

Phoenix sold the farm to build this star-studded roster, but have only seen their top trio play in 23 games together. They’ve had luck with Durant and Nurkic’s health, but have missed Booker and Beal with minor injuries. 

In Oklahoma City’s recent matchup against Phoenix, they committed to doubling Kevin Durant. This strategy was especially effective because Booker was out for the game, so Phoenix was already facing a dearth of playmaking. Without Booker setting the table, and with Durant being hounded like he was, OKC was able to score 31 points off turnovers.

Oklahoma City is 2-0 so far against the Suns this season but, notably, neither of those games featured Devin Booker. Last season, the Suns star averaged 34.3 points per game versus OKC and Phoenix went 3-1 in the process. 

To be clear, this is a very different Thunder team from last year. But the fact remains that Devin Booker can single-handedly win games for Phoenix. In last season’s first-round matchup versus the Clippers, Booker averaged 37.2 points per game, while shooting 60.2 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from deep.

Good luck stopping that. 

The Thunder are capable of beating Phoenix, even when at full strength, but this is a series that could easily go seven games. Defensive rotations would need to be razor-sharp if OKC chooses to double Durant. Having strong on-ball defenders like Dort and J-Dub is encouraging, but the Phoenix scoring attack can overwhelm even the best defense. 

In addition, the Thunder would need to make Phoenix pay on defense for playing the lumbering Jusuf Nurkic. Whether that means more three-point attempts for Holmgren, or just playing Giddey less, one wonders what buttons Daigneault will push to punish the Suns and their drop coverage.

All in all, the Thunder likely wouldn’t want to meet Phoenix in the first round. Like with Dallas, OKC is capable of winning, but the margin for error is even slimmer here than in a potential Mavericks series.

The reward of sending Durant home from the playoffs would be sweet, but the Thunder would rather see Phoenix match up with Denver or Minnesota than themselves.