Phoenix Suns - Oklahoma City Thunder Preview

When: Sunday, 08 November 2015 at 7:00PM EST
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Seven games into a season is too early to start throwing the words "must win" around (unless you are the New Orleans Pelicans). But the Oklahoma City Thunder need to feel that sensation of winning a game again. It's not the fact that they've lost. It's how they've lost. Lack of late-game execution. The inability to get stops at crucial times in the game. The lack of ball movement in the fourth quarter. All the issues that plagued the Thunder during the Scott Brooks tenure. And yet, a few breaks here or there, and the Thunder may be looking at a 6-0 record. The fact the Thunder has only lost their last three games by an average of 5.3 points should alleviate some of those concerns.

The Thunder is still working out the kinks. They have new players (Kevin Durant never played with Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler, or D.J. Augustin before this season, as he was injured when those players were acquired at the trade deadline last season). They have a new head coach and new schemes to learn and implement. There were going to be some growing pains during the season, and these set-backs are just learning moments. 

This is the first meeting of the season between the Thunder and the Phoenix Suns. The Thunder won the season series last year, 3-1, with the middle two games going to overtime. Meetings between these two teams the last two seasons have been high scoring, chippy affairs. 

The Opponent

The Phoenix Suns come into the game with a 3-3 record. They enter this game coming off a loss to the Detroit Pistons. Offensively, they rank 15th in the league in terms of scoring at 102 points per game. Where they've improved immensely is on the defensive end, where they are allowing 98.7 points, good for 11th in the league. That turnaround can be attributed to the addition of center Tyson Chandler, who was acquired in the offseason via free agency. On the wings, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and P.J. Tucker provide the Suns with a good mixture of offense and defense. Up front, Markieff Morris is one of the better mid-range shooters at the power forward position. Off the bench, T.J. Warren, Alex Len, Jon Leuer, and Ronnie Price provide good depth for the Suns. 

Probable Starting Lineups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG - Eric Bledsoe
  • SG - Brandon Knight
  • SF - PJ Tucker
  • PF - Markieff Morris
  • C - Tyson Chandler

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG - Russell Westbrook
  • SG - Andre Roberson
  • SF - Kevin Durant
  • PF - Serge Ibaka
  • C - Steven Adams

3 Things to Watch For

  1. Emotions - Oklahoma City will come into this game emotionally charged. They are at home and are desperate for a win. Add to that, the Suns are one of those teams that can be chippy, physical, and is known to lead the league in trash-talking. It'll be interesting to gauge how the Thunder handle all the pressure coming into this game. 
  2. Pick-and-Roll Defense - From everything the Thunder have said, Billy Donovan's system for defending the pick and roll is one of the staples of their defense. The problem is they are having trouble implementing that during the key parts of the game. With Bledsoe and Knight running the offense as dual combo guards, it would behoove the Thunder to come into this game with a clear understanding of what they want to do in their pick-and-roll defense. 
  3. The Others - For all intents and purposes, Durant and Russell Westbrook have been great. They are both scoring nearly 30 points per game and Westbrook is either at the top or near the top of the league in assists. The other players, though, have been inconsistent. Serge Ibaka usually bookends good games with a bad one in the middle. Dion Waiters is having too many 3 of 8 field goal games for seven points. D.J. Augustine was good the first three games of the season, not so much for the last three. And Nick Collison looks like he aged 10 years in the offseason. A total team effort would really help the Thunder's confidence.