Thunder, Suns Heading In Opposite Directions
By Randy Renner
Just a couple of weeks ago the Thunder were still chasing the Suns trying to get into the playoff picture, now even with the latest Kevin Durant surgery, the Thunder have passed up the Suns and are now solidly in eighth place in the Western Conference.
OKC comes into tonight's game red-hot having won seven straight and nine of their last 10, the Suns playoff chances may be setting, having lost eight of their last 10 and fallen behind New Orleans down into 10th place.
The Thunder are actually now just two games behind the Spurs for seventh and if you want to really get optimistic, Oklahoma City could move to within five games of Portland with a win tonight in Phoenix and if they can follow that up with a win tomorrow night in Portland they'd be just four games behind the Blazers for the Northwest Division lead and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Their 9-1 run through February so far includes double-digit wins over the Clippers, Memphis, and Dallas, all teams they trail in the standings.
Oklahoma City is averaging 111.7 points over its last 10 games, and though Durant has missed half of them, each was a victory. It's unclear when he will return as he deals with foot soreness and is supposed to be re-evaluated sometime here at the end of the week.
All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook is playing the best basketball of his career right now. He had 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a 105-92 win over Indiana on Tuesday for his third triple-double this season. His 11 triple-doubles since entering the league in 2008-09 rank third while his three this season are tied with Michael Carter-Williams and Rajon Rondo for the NBA lead.
The All-Star Game MVP is averaging 29.5 points on 38.9 percent 3-point shooting with 10.1 assists and 8.2 rebounds over his last 10 games - up from 24.8 on 25.9, 7.4 and 5.9 previously.
Westbrook, whose 7.5 fast-break points per game lead the NBA, has averaged 9.4 in the last 10, helping Oklahoma City average 22.5 as a team, a 7.9 increase from its previous average.
"He just continues to stack games up on top of one another," coach Scott Brooks said after Tuesday's win over Indiana. "He's played well. He's doing a great job of leading us, leading the new guys and leading the group. Making it all come together."
The Suns snapped a five-game losing streak last night with a 110-96 win at Denver, though it was against a Nuggets squad that had dropped 16 of 18. The Suns had allowed 111-plus points in four straight before limiting undermanned Denver to 38.3 percent shooting.
Brandon Knight's 19 points led six players in double figures.
"It's all new and all coming so quickly," said Knight, who has averaged 17.3 points in three games for the Suns since being acquired from Milwaukee. "It will take time. But it's really just about making basketball plays."
The Suns have been one of the league's worst rebounding teams with a average minus-2.1 margin but are plus-33 over their last two games and recorded a league season-high 65 boards Wednesday. Alex Len has 10-plus rebounds in four straight after averaging 6.0 previously.
The Thunder are the NBA's best rebounding team (47.4 per game) and they're second in offensive rebounds per game (12.3).
Oklahoma City has won 13 of 15 in the series, including two home meetings this season. Westbrook has averaged 32.3 points on 54.0 percent shooting in his last four trips to Phoenix, but was 5 of 13 for 20 points in a 137-134 overtime home win on Dec. 31 as Durant scored 44. Eric Bledsoe led Phoenix that night with 29.
Tipoff is scheduled for 9:30 but because it's the second game of TNT's national TV double-header the tip could be as late as 9:45.
The Thunder will fly to Portland after the game for Friday night's showdown with the Blazers, that game is also part of a national TV double-header on ESPN.