We have 10 games on the Friday night NBA schedule, with one of the more entertaining matchups coming in the desert. We will have the NBA’s preeminent weather matchup when the Thunder head to Phoenix to take on the Suns. A true clash in styles.
Both teams come into the game in pretty solid form. Phoenix was looking like the worst team in the league earlier this season, but they have perked up quite a bit in recent weeks since Devin Booker returned from injury. The Suns have quietly won 5 of their last 7 games, including an overtime win on Wednesday night in Orlando over the Magic.
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The Thunder have won 4 of their last 6 overall, though they will come into this one riding a 2-game losing skid. Oklahoma City was beaten by James Harden and the Rockets in Houston in what was an entertaining affair on Christmas Day.
The Suns are unlikely to climb into the playoff race any time soon despite their recent uptick, but the Thunder are currently just a half-game behind the Nuggets and Warriors atop the Western Conference.
The following odds are courtesy of live odds feed:
|2018 ATS Home||9-7-0||8-8-0|
|2018 ATS Away||9-8-0||8-11-0|
|2018 O/U Home||10-6-0||6-10-0|
|2018 O/U Away||5-11-1||9-10-0|
As mentioned in the open, Phoenix has gotten back on track since their best player, Devin Booker, returned. The Suns have won 4 of 6 since Booker came back, and he has been spectacular in that span. In about 36 minutes per game, the 22-year-old is averaging 27.1 points, 7.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game.
He has been playing all the minutes he can handle, as well, including a whopping 55 minutes a couple of games ago in a triple-overtime loss to the Wizards.
Booker could find it tougher to get going tonight if Paul George suits up. George is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, and one would imagine he would draw the assignment of trying to keep Booker in check. However, George is currently hobbled by a left quad contusion, which has his status up in the air for this game.
If George sits, Booker may well run wild once again. If George plays, some other Suns may have to step it up offensively. Deandre Ayton has been overshadowed this season by fellow rookie Luka Doncic, but the former No. 1 overall pick is quietly having a strong season in his own right.
The big man is averaging 16.3 points, 10.9 boards and a block per game. The defensive side of the floor has been a real struggle for him, but his advanced offensive game is impressive for a 20-year-old.
Ayton has connected on 59.9 percent of his shots to this point, which is one of the best marks in the league. Ayton has been particularly hot over his last 5 games, as he’s averaged 20.8 points, 15.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in that span.
One interesting name to watch on the Phoenix side moving forward will be Kelly Oubre, who arrived last week after being acquired from the Wizards in exchange for Trevor Ariza. Ariza had already mentally checked out on the Suns amid their struggles, but Oubre has given Phoenix some pretty good production off the bench since coming to town.
If you throw out the game the Suns played the day after the aforementioned triple-OT extravaganza, Oubre has averaged 17.3 points and 4 rebounds per game since making the move.
Oubre was never consistent during his time with the Wizards, but perhaps a change of scenery will do him some good. Going from a fractured locker room in Washington to a team full of young talent in Phoenix certainly can’t hurt his mindset.
OKC may have lost 2 straight, but they’re still very much in the hunt for the top overall seed in the conference. The Thunder seem much improved this season following a season in which they failed to meet expectations. OKC was unceremoniously dumped from the playoffs in the first round by Utah last year.
The Thunder are where they are thanks in large part to the excellent play of Paul George.
George, who should be among the frontrunners for MVP this season, is averaging a career-high 26.3 points per game along with 8.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists while also providing the previously-mentioned top-notch perimeter defense on the other side of the floor.
George’s outstanding individual play has come at the expense of some of the offensive production of Russell Westbrook. The former MVP is still averaging a triple-double on the season, but his scoring average has dipped from 25.4 points a season ago to 20.2 so far this year.
Westbrook is taking about 3 fewer shots per game, and his efficiency hasn’t been good. He’s shooting just 24.8 percent from long range, for example.
OKC has also gotten stellar production from its role players. Steven Adams continues to chug along as arguably the most underrated center in the game. He commands the paint defensively while averaging nearly a double-double (16.1 points, 9.9 rebounds). Ayton will be hard-pressed to get much going offensively as long as Adams is out there lurking around the rim.
Guys like Jerami Grant and Dennis Schroder have also stepped it up. The Thunder aren’t the deepest team in the league, but their talent at the top is arguably second to just Golden State these days.
The Suns are a franchise that seems to have been running at a quick pace for its entire existence. Just last season Phoenix finished second in the league with an average of 102.6 possessions per game. Under new head coach Igor Kokoskov, however, they’ve slowed things down.
The 2018-19 iteration of the Suns averages just 101.5 possessions per game, which is 21st in the league. That may not sound like a big drop from last season’s number, but keep in mind teams around the league are playing at a much faster pace than last year, which partially explains the drop.
They still play fast, but by this season’s standards they’re actually one of the slowest teams in the league.
Nothing has to give here, either. The Thunder rank first in the league in defensive rating, allowing 100.4 points per 100 possessions. Phoenix, meanwhile, ranks 27th in the same category, as they’re coughing up 109.9 points per 100 possessions.
Oklahoma City’s offense has been nothing special this season, but the Suns’ defense this season has been as soft as warm butter. OKC should have no problem slicing through them with ease.
That said, the Suns’ improved play of late makes the 6 ½-point spread an interesting one. The fact that the Thunder may be without Paul George just makes it all the more likely that the Suns can keep this one close. If George plays, I’m inclined to take Oklahoma City to cover the 6 ½ points.
The Thunder have been routinely failing to hit the over in road games. OKC is 5-11-1 O/U on the road, while the Suns are just 6-10-0 in terms of hitting the over at home. The total of 226 ½ points is a hefty one, especially for a couple of teams that haven’t been playing all that well offensively this season.
Phoenix’ defensive struggles makes this feel somewhat risky, but I’m leaning toward hitting the under on 226 ½ here. If George is out, I’m all the more confident in the under here. So, take the under on 226 ½ points.
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