- When: Sunday, 14 December 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
- Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
While positions 1 through 7 are well represented and accounted for in the Western Conference playoff picture, the 8th spot is looking like if Kim Kardashian announced she was newly single at the BET Source Awards. Six games currently separate the 8th seed from the final seed in the conference. With a quarter of the season already played, there is still plenty of time for teams to make their moves to get into that final spot. One of the best things for a team to do in this position is to assert themselves by beating the teams around them in the standings. For the Thunder, those teams would realistically be the Suns, Pelicans, Kings, Nuggets, and Lakers. The Jazz and Timberwolves have little shot of moving up in the standings due to their inexperience and general direction of their team currently (rebuilding, player developing, etc.).
This is the first of four meetings this season between the Thunder and Phoenix Suns. The Suns’ run and gun style gave the Thunder issues last season as the Suns won 2 of 3 games in the season series and averaged 115.3 points per game in those three meetings.
The Phoenix Suns come into this game with a 12-12 record, barely clinging on to the 8th seed in the Western Conference. After starting the season 9-5, they’ve gone on to drop 7 of their next 10. While the offense is still there (105.4 points per game, good for 5th in the league), the Suns have slipped defensively. They allowed 103.9 point per game (26th in the league) and grab only 41.8 boards per game, which is 19th in the league. As high-octane as their offense is, a lot of it is predicated on one on one play and perimeter shot making, which can make it inefficient at times. Leading the charge is the two-headed point guard duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Bledsoe is the havoc creator, while Dragic is the more efficient player. Between the two, they are averaging nearly 32 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10 assists per game. On the wing, PJ Tucker provides the perimeter defense for the Suns. Up front, Markieff Morris leads the team in rebounding at 6.5 per game, but spends much of his time on the perimeter in the mid-range. After having a breakout season, Miles Plumlee has regressed quite a bit, which has hurt the Suns’ interior play. The Suns feature one of the more offensively dangerous benches in the league, as Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas, and Marcus Morris can all go off for 20 points in a game, easily.
Probable Starting Line-Ups
- PG – Eric Bledsoe
- SG – Goran Dragic
- SF – PJ Tucker
- PF – Markieff Morris
- C – Miles Plumlee
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Andre Roberson
- SF – Kevin Durant
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Steven Adams
3 Keys to the Game
1. Guard Play – So much of the Suns’ identity is dependent on guard play. Their recent struggles coincided with the 8-game absence from Isaiah Thomas due to a bruised ankle. The Suns’ strongest line-ups usually involve the trio of Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas. Luckily, the Thunder have options that can defend such a line-up. Don’t be surprise if Ish Smith gets some minutes in this game to counter the Suns’ guard play.
2. The Interior – The Suns’ biggest weakness is their lack of an interior presence. In the last two weeks, the Suns have allowed Tyson Chandler to grab 18 boards, and Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan to grab 14 board each. While the Thunder don’t necessarily have a rebound-inhaler like those 3 guys, their big man can rack up the rebounding numbers if the opposing team is weak on the interior.
3. Playoff Intensity – It’s early, but the Thunder have to come out and assert themselves. They’ve been fortunate to have all the pieces come together during a stretch where they’ve played some of the worst teams in the league. This “mini training camp” has been instrumental in developing chemistry. But now, it’s time to put all that practice to work.