The Oklahoma City Thunder (36-27) might be 3-1 since the All-Star break, but they have not been great. Despite facing three of the worst teams in the league in the Kings, Magic, and Mavs, they won those games by just a total of 11 points. They were also demolished by 32 against the only good team they’ve faced in the Warriors.
They needed overtime to overcome the Mavs, 111-110. Russell Westbrook had another strong game with 30 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists, while Paul George added 26 points, 11 boards, and six assists. However, Carmelo Anthony has continued his disastrous shooting slump. He’s shooting an abysmal 36 percent over his last 15 games.
The Thunder are set to go up against another bottom-dwelling team in the Phoenix Suns (19-44). However, the Suns were able to lift themselves out of the cellar with a 110-102 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. It was their first and only win for the entire month of February and snapped a disastrous ten-game losing skid.
Devin Booker came up big with 34 points, his third game of 30 or more points. Meanwhile, Josh Jackson had one of his best games as a pro. The rookie dropped 29 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks as he got the start in place of TJ Warren, who was out due to a pelvic injury. He remains questionable to return against the Thunder.
Three keys to the game
Thunder star power - The Thunder will go as far as their stars take them. But with the supporting cast unable to provide much, Westbrook and George just can’t afford to have off games. Luckily, having an off game against this porous Phoenix defense seems tough to do.
Suns wings - On the flipside, the Suns’ young core of Booker, Jackson, and Warren has been delivering the numbers. While those numbers haven’t necessarily brought about wins, those three did combine to beat the Thunder at home in January, 114-100. Warren’s possible absence would hurt since they need his consistent scoring. If he does miss out once again, it’ll be up to Booker and Jackson to continue carrying a big burden offensively.
Defense - Seriously, who among these teams can play enough D in this game to get the win. On paper, the clear answer should probably be the Thunder, but they have not been great on that end of the court against the other bad opposition they’ve faced recently.
Matchup to watch
Paul George vs Josh Jackson - Jackson is showing his potential on offense over the past couple of months. And with his already high upside on defense, he’s shaping up to be a next Paul George in the coming years. Well, he’ll have the chance to measure himself up to the real thing tonight. The rookie more than held his own during their first matchup, but George is playing much better basketball lately and will be eager to send the young Sun crashing back down to earth.
Thunder projected starting lineup
PG - Russell Westbrook | SG - Josh Huestis | SF - Paul George | PF - Carmelo Anthony | C - Steven Adams
Suns projected starting lineup
PG - Elfrid Payton | SG - Devin Booker | SF - Josh Jackson | PF - Dragan Bender | C - Alex Len
Westbrook had his customary triple-double (26 points, ten rebounds, 11 assists) in a losing effort against the Suns earlier in the year and would be a very strong bet to get another one. But apart from him and George, Steven Adams will be a Thunder player to consider fantasy-wise. Adams just had a three-game stretch where he went for 16.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 1.7 steals. He also went for 18 points, five boards, and three blocks against the Suns.
As for the Suns, Booker and Jackson are the obvious ones to watch out for, especially if Warren is still out of the lineup. Booker has been brilliant since returning from injury and is putting up 31.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists over his last five games. Meanwhile, Jackson’s putting up 19 points and seven boards over his last five and had 17 points, ten rebounds, and five assists in his first meeting against Phoenix.
It's just hard to trust the Thunder at the moment. They're making things much tougher for themselves against teams they should really be blowing away. The Suns should have enough offensive firepower to push them once again, especially if Warren is able to return. It could end up being another tougher game than anticipated for OKC. Take a hard look at the over as well.
The Thunder just about do enough to win again as they beat the Suns, 118-112.
This game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Arizona and Fox Sports Oklahoma. Tip-off is at 9:00 pm Eastern.