By Randy Renner
For a while this season the Phoenix Suns were among the hottest teams in the NBA, right now not so much.
Your Oklahoma City Thunder flew out of winter straight into summertime yesterday, it was 82 degrees when their charter flight landed in Phoenix and they may be catching the Suns at just the right time.
Phoenix has played itself into contention for a playoff spot in the Western Conference but the Suns have cooled off lately and are just 5-5 in their last 10 games and have lost four of their last six.
They're also without some of their key players now. Leandro Barbosa broke his hand during Tuesday's loss to the Clippers and could the rest of the regular season. Eric Bledsoe should be back in the lineup soon but he hasn't quite recovered from right knee surgery and rookie center Alex Len is starting now because regular center Miles Plumlee is out with a sprained knee.
The Thunder of course aren't exactly healthy with center Kendrick Perkins and shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha out for the next month or so, but the Thunder seem to be coping better with their situation now than they were a few games back.
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told reporters after practice yesterday that the Suns appear to have changed their mental approach to games.
"Coach (Jeff) Hornacek has done a great job implementing a winning culture. You can tell buy looking at them on film that they expect to win," he said. "There's a lot to be said for that. You have to believe you can be competitive every night and they do now."
The Suns, like the Thunder, have some versatility in their roster, "offensively they can create mis-matches," Brooks pointed out, "because they can go small, so they'll be challenging with how they play."
The Thunder have become adept at playing both big and small in the same games. In their last two wins they've started games super big, with four players 6-10 or taller and then later gone super small with four guards in the lineup.
OKC will likely do the same tonight, with Perry Jones III expected to get the nod in place of Sefolosha. Jones at 6-10 would matchup against Gerald Green who's 6-8. Both are very athletic and that should be a fun matchup to watch. One thing you don't want to do when guarding Green is put him on the free throw line. He's hit 23 straight from there.
Another interesting matchup should be the two rookie big men going at each other, Len for the Suns and Steven Adams for the Thunder.
In the few games Adams has started this season he's always gone up against a veteran so it will be nice to see what he can do against someone who doesn't have an experience edge.
The Thunder have dominated this series lately, winning 11 straight, but these teams haven't played each since November and each has changed quite a bit since then.
That night the Thunder won 103-96, Kevin Durant had 33 points and 10 rebounds and Bledsoe had 26 to lead the Suns.
Tipoff is set for a few minutes after 8 o'clock our time and you can see it on Fox Sports Oklahoma. The Thunder will be trying to win their fourth straight game.