PHOENIX — If fans of the Phoenix Suns are looking for some positive spin during this season of bitter karma, we offer the Oklahoma City Thunder as evidence of what can happen.
Well, the Thunder represent what happens if high draft picks are possessed when transcendent talent is available, recognized and chosen. Monday night at US Airways Center, such talent was on display during OKC’s 102-90 triumph over the Suns.
Speaking of specific talent, the defending Western Conference champs received a combined 77 points from super-co-stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Please note the domineering duo had 47 of the Thunder’s 51 second-half points.
“They are a great team,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “There is a reason that they were in the NBA Finals last year. They’ve got two great players in Westbrook and Durant, and you can see why.”
So, what does any of this mean for the home team? Well, now sitting at 13-27, the Suns are threatening to end up in prime pouncing position for the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery. And if their Los Angeles Lakers buddies somehow are unable to achieve a resurrection in this season’s second half, the Suns (if the Lakers miss the playoffs) would be conveyed their lottery pick, too. In what still seems like an unlikely development, Steve Nash would be the gift that keeps on giving.
Two lottery picks would seem just ducky, right? Two opportunities — including one that might happen much earlier than any Phoenix selection in many years — could turn into a talent upgrade.
For a stab at context, OKC pounced on Durant in ’07, Westbrook in ’08 and James Harden (since traded, for financial reasons, to Houston for dangerous weapon Kevin Martin) in ’09.
For a stab at reality, we should note that not all draft classes are created equal. Players the caliber of Durant, for example, don’t just happen to pop into every draft class. NBA talent sharpies have been predicting doom in regard to the 2013 lottery prospects, but recently have offered tremors of optimism.
A lot of teams have been stringing together lottery picks over multiple seasons without landing players anywhere near this caliber.
Anyway, with Durant (41 points on 15-of-30 shooting) and Westbrook (36 on 14 of 24) reminding Phoenix fans, coaches and players what go-to guys look like, OKC improved its record to a league-best 30-8.
“If you are going to play a team of this quality,” Gentry said, “you have to seize opportunity. I thought we had opportunities that we just kind of let slip on by, and it’s going to be tough to beat a team of this quality if you don’t take advantage of those situations.”
Loosely translated, this means the Suns were plucky (again), but didn’t have enough juice to make the timely plays require to overcome a superior foe.
Battling the mighty Thunder down the home stretch, Phoenix was required to attempt matching the Durant-Westbrook variety show with Michael Beasley and Shannon Brown.
Brown made 9 of 15 shots and finished with 21 points, but for only the second time in his six performances of 20 points or more, the Suns were defeated. We need a larger sample size to determine if Brown’s scoring splurges translate to something positive.
Unfortunately on Monday, several Phoenix possessions were defined by Brown dribbling down the shot clock like New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Although he shot well, the ball-stopping properties were part of some desperation offerings in Phoenix’s 42-percent shooting effort.
Our next subject is Beasley, who — like Durant — grew up in the Maryland/D.C. area, dominated as a freshman in the Big 12 Conference and was taken second in the NBA Draft.
While Durant has roared toward superstardom, Beasley is traveling the frequently-beaten path. After slouching his way out of Gentry’s rotation, Beasley (getting minutes thanks to Jared Dudley’s injured wrist) erupted for 20 points in last Saturday’s victory over the Bulls in Chicago.
And, with Dudley still out of uniform, Beasley was quite active on Monday.
In addition to missing 9 of 14 shots from the field, half of his 6 free-throw attempts and committing 4 turnovers, Beasley tracked down 11 rebounds. He also reacted to one of the free-throw misses by strolling to a spot under the rim and seemingly inspecting it for an invisible force field.
When asked about this atypical interlude between free throws, Beasley said he was simply checking the rim “for gremlins.”
Beasley also spent a large chunk of the second half attempting to check Durant. Although KD’s 27-point salvo speaks for itself, it should be noted that Beasley did work (relatively) hard in his bid to stop him. A couple of Durant 3-pointers happened after KD had the ball passed back out after his own missed shots with Beasley failing to maintain focus.
But a wicked Durant crossover did put Beasley’s ankles at risk and ended in a dunk nailed over Marcin “The Polish Hammer” Gortat at 2:23 of the fourth quarter.
Gortat, who finished the game with 19 points and 15 rebounds, was given a personal foul and even more appreciation for the OKC star.
“Well, first of all, I was looking for my car keys under the basket,” Gortat said when asked for his in-the-moment reaction to possible inclusion in a Durant poster. “I lost them over there, so I was just looking for them.”
What about Beasley’s culpability in the event?
“Michael Beasley is going to get Krispy Kreme for the rest of the season for sure, for me,” Gortat said. “I mean, it happens. The funny thing is when (OKC center Kendrick) Perkins was standing under the basket, he looked at me and I looked at him and he said, ‘I know how it feels.’ He said, ‘guards left you on the island, huh?'”
Actually, Gortat was comprised by a doughnut-wielding forward instead of a guard. So what’s the good news for Marcin? He probably won’t need those car keys on an island.