By Randy Renner
The last time the Oklahoma City Thunder played in the Valley of the Sun their defense was roasted, toasted and quick fried to a crackly crunch, giving up a season high 128 points.
That night the Thunder also gave up a career-high 41 points to Gerald Green who hit eight 3-pointers as the Suns won 128-122. It was the most points the Thunder had given up since 2009.
Green scored 25 of his 41 points in the third quarter in that game on March 6th, going 6-for-7 from beyond the arc.
"We didn't play any defense," Scott Brooks said at the time.
Tonight the Thunder should be much more familiar with the threat Green can pose and hopefully will be able to play better perimeter defense. The Suns hit 15 threes on March 6th so it wasn't just Green who burned them.
And something else about that game. It was very similar to what happened Friday night in Houston. The Thunder got caught up trying to play the Suns game, they jacked up 33 threes and got to the free throw line just 19 times, they hit all 19 from the stripe but made just 13 from beyond the arc.
The Suns meanwhile shot 27 threes and hit 15 and got to the free throw line 39 times, making 29.
The Thunder couldn't defend without fouling back on March 6th, just like Friday night in Houston.
That has to change tonight.
And like Friday, the Thunder will be facing a team determined to win. The Rockets had lost three straight and were on the verge of losing home court in the first round of the playoffs going into Friday's game.
Tonight the Suns are fighting to stay in the playoff race.
Phoenix (45-31) is tied with Memphis for eighth place in the Western Conference with Dallas a half-game ahead of both. However, the Grizzlies hold the tiebreaker over the Suns by virtue of winning the teams' first three matchups, and they'll meet again in Phoenix on April 14th.
Besides that tilt and tonight's contest against Oklahoma City, the Suns other four games will come on the road, including visits to Dallas and first-place San Antonio.
"Our destiny is in our own hands, because we still play Dallas and Memphis," said Goran Dragic, averaging a team-leading 20.4 points this season but shooting 32.6 percent over his last three contests. "Those two games are going to be really huge for us. Win those games and it's going to be really close."
Phoenix has won nine of 12, with Green going 30-for-65 (46.2 percent) from 3-point range in the last 11. He was 4-for-7 from deep on Friday as the Suns improved to 7-0 when he has at least 28 points, scoring 32 in a 109-93 win at Portland while Eric Bledsoe had a season-high 30. That Portland loss gave the Thunder their fourth straight Northwest Division crown.
"There are times when you go, 'Uh, oh, what are we going to see next?'" coach Jeff Hornacek said of Green. "He got a little wild, but he feels nobody can ever stop him. That's the confidence he has."
A lot of that confidence lately was born back on March 6th with that 41 point night something the Thunder will remember as much as Green.
OKC gets Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins back tonight. Both rested Friday night on the second night of a back-to-back.
Thabo Sefolosha should be back soon, maybe sometime on this road trip, but probably not tonight. Though the Thunder would definitely love to have him in order to cool off Green.
The Thunder begin the day 3.5 games behind San Antonio in the standings and three back in the loss column. The Spurs are hosting Memphis tonight so the Thunder have a chance to make up some ground with a win in Phoenix and a Spurs loss, but time (and games) are quickly running out on catching the Spurs.
Tonight's the night Kevin Durant can pass Michael Jordan for the longest streak of consecutive 25 point games in the last 50 years. Right now the two are tied at 40 straight. By the way KD is averaging 33.5 points against the Suns in two meetings this season.
Tipoff in Phoenix is 8:10 Oklahoma time and you can see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma. The Thunder will be in Sacramento Tuesday night and in Los Angeles to play the Clippers Wednesday night in the last (thank God) back-to-back of the season.