When: Tonight 5PM PST, 8PM PST
Where: BOK Arena. Tulsa, OK
TV: None locally
Local Radio: 620AM
Tonight, the Phoenix Suns will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in an away game that is sure to test the mettle of the newly-formed, Nash-less squad from Planet Orange. The Suns have been impressive in their last two games, especially the starting five, but tonight will be their biggest test to date against one of the most talented teams in the league.
Like the Suns, the Thunder are coming off a Wednesday win of their own against the Charlotte Bobcats, who they pummeled 120-98...with only three of their four stars (Harden sat out with a groin injury). Although a win against the lowly Bobcats hardly seems worthy of bragging about, there is little question about the potency of OKC. The Suns will need to continue playing fast and aggressive on offense, while also tightening up their defense and re-bounding if they are going to pull out a win tonight.
Russell Westbrook is one of the most athletic and electrifying point guards in the NBA. He is extremely fast and strong for his size, and when he chooses to attack the basket he is one of the most difficult players to guard. Dragic will no doubt have his hands full playing against Westbrook tonight, but just like Russell, Goran is also very adept at slashing to the rim using his speed, athleticism, and craftiness to score inside. But unlike Westbrook, Dragic has proven to be a true point guard who is deadly as both a passer and a scorer. This should be a great match-up to watch.
Jared Dudley vs. Lazar Haywood
Thabo Sefalosha is still rehabbing a deep thigh bruise, and may or may not play in tonight's game. If he continues to sit, the Thunder could once again go with Lazar Haywood who they started in Sefalosha's place against the Bobcats, since James Harden is also questionable with a groin injury. Dudley has been quietly effective and efficient over the last two games, but hasn't really stood out yet...that could change tonight. If neither Sefalosha or Harden play tonight, Jared Dudley should be able to take advantage of this match-up and be one of the go-to guys on offense.
Michael Beasley has played very well in his first three games as a Sun. He has shown that he can not only be the scorer everyone knows he can be, but also an effective facilitator as well. Kevin Durant might just be the best all-around player in the NBA, so expect Beasley to have his hands full tonight. Still, Beasley should score his fair share of points for the Suns as well.
Scola has shown that he is every bit the savvy, crafty vet Phoenix hoped for when they placed the winning bid for him in the amnesty lottery. Scola has shown his talent and skill around the basket and from the perimeter as well. Scola may need to bring his mid-range game tonight as he will be tested mightily tonight against Ibaka who has never met a shot he couldn't swat. This should also be a good matchup to keep an eye on.
Kendrick Perkins is sidelined while recovering from a wrist surgery he had during the off-season, and the Thunder are looking for Cole Aldrich to step up and fill the void. Aldrich was fairly impressive in the first two preseason games, registering a double-double in each. However, he scored 0 points and grabbed only 5 rebounds in the 19 minutes he played against the Bobcats, so the jury's still out on just how effective he will be. As for Gortat, he also has a lot to prove. Can he show that he is still the same player with or without Nash? Going up against an inexperienced big like Aldrich should allow Gortat to showcase his skills and ability.
Keys to the Game:
- Containment - Can Dragic contain Westbrook on defense while still remaining aggressive on offense? How will Beasley fare against the Durantula? The key to stopping the Thunder will be holding these two in check. Although both Durant and Westbrook are expected to play no more than a half, they are both potent scorers who can quickly change the outcome of a game. Meanwhile, Dragic and Beasley will not only have to effectively defend these two superstars, they will likely both have to score or facilitate most of the Suns' points on the offensive end as well.
- Rebounding - The Suns have not yet shown that they can be reliable at securing the ball, and have given up too many second and third shot attempts. Gortat and Morris are the Suns' best rebounders, and the Suns will need a good game from both of them on the boards if they are going to pull out a win tonight.
- The Bench - The Suns bench thus far has failed to produce at a comparable level to the starters. With Shannon Brown's status still uncertain at the moment, the Suns will need a big comeback game from Markieff Morris and Wesley Johnson along with smart and efficient point guard play from the backups to stave off the Thunder's young bench.
Phoenix Will certainly have their hands full tonight in Oklahoma City. This game should be a formidable test for the new-look Suns to determine whether or not they can hang with one of the powerhouses of the NBA, at least in terms of the preseason, that is.