Suns-Thunder Preview

Although the Oklahoma City Thunder win a majority of their games

behind a high-powered offense led by All-Stars Kevin Durant and

Russell Westbrook, coach Scott Brooks wants his team to put some

extra emphasis on the defensive end.

They seemingly shouldn’t have much trouble with that request

against the offensively challenged Phoenix Suns in Oklahoma City on

Friday night.

The Thunder (37-12) average a league-best 106.2 points, with

Durant leading all scorers at 29.3 per game and Westbrook ranking

seventh at 22.6. The team put together one of its better offensive

showings Wednesday in a 119-98 victory over Golden State.

Durant had 25 points, Westbrook scored 22 and Kevin Martin added

21 as Oklahoma City won consecutive games for the first time in

nearly three weeks after alternating wins and losses for the

previous eight contests.

While the Thunder’s offense led the way, the defense limited the

Warriors to 19 points in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma City has won

28 straight games when holding opponents to 98 points or fewer.

“I’m looking for us to just continue to bring the effort on the

defensive end,” Brooks said. “I’ve always felt with our guys as the

season has gone and the years have gone by that offensively we’re

going to keep improving in that area but we wanted to focus on

defense.”

Although Brooks is looking for another strong showing from his

defense, he wouldn’t mind if Oklahoma City’s offense continues to

have its way with Phoenix. The Thunder are averaging 112.0 points

while winning the last eight in the series – two this season.

In the last meeting Jan. 14, Durant and Westbrook combined for

47 of the Thunder’s 51 points after halftime in a 102-90 road

victory. Durant finished with 41 while Westbrook had 36.

Clamping down defensively also shouldn’t be a problem for the

Thunder, who’ve won 18 of 19 at home while the Suns have dropped 16

of 19 on the road.

Phoenix (17-33) is averaging 91.9 points while cracking triple

digits just once over its last 19 games overall, including both

losses to Oklahoma City. The Suns sputtered down the stretch in

Wednesday’s 93-84 loss at New Orleans, scoring 13 fourth-quarter

points.

“Tough, tough loss for us,” said interim coach Lindsey Hunter,

who is 4-5 since taking over for Alvin Gentry on Jan. 20. “Not many

positives can be taken from the game. Like I said, I am discouraged

but I am still encouraged because I know where we are going to be

and I know how we are going to do it.”

Hunter’s vision probably requires better shooting from the

perimeter. The Suns were 1 of 15 on 3-point attempts Wednesday, and

are shooting 25.0 percent from beyond the arc in their last six

games.

Center Marcin Gortat has been on target, hitting 15 of 20 from

the field in his last two contests. He has also posted a pair of

double-doubles against Oklahoma City this season, averaging 15.5

points and 12.5 rebounds.