Suns seek win over nemesis Thunder

November 17, 2018

PHOENIX -- After avenging their worst showing of the season with their best, the Phoenix Suns can hope to build on the momentum gathered Wednesday against another recent tormentor.

On Wednesday, The Suns beat old nemesis San Antonio by 20 points a 50-point swing from their 30-point loss to the Spurs two weeks ago and will face the Oklahoma City Thunder to conclude a short two-game homestand at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The Thunder, who have played through the recent absence of All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, have twice beaten the Suns by 17 points this season, once at home and once on the road.

Oklahoma City (9-5) has won nine of 10 since losing four straight to open the season and is 4-1 since Westbrook went out with a sprained left ankle.

Dennis Schroder has filled in admirably, and Paul George has been at the top of his game.

Schroder, acquired in a three-team offseason trade in which the Thunder jettisoned Carmelo Anthony, has averaged 19.2 and 5.8 assists handling the point. George has scored 35 and 32 points in the last two games, lopsided victories over the New York Knicks and the Suns.

George had 32 points and six 3-pointers in a 118-101 victory over the Suns on Monday, when the Thunder scored 24 of the first 29 points, although the Suns managed to cut the deficit to seven points midway through the fourth quarter.

"I think now everyone's comfortable playing out there," George told the Oklahoman after a season-high 35 points against the Knicks.

"We're just playing faster. We're not making the game tough, where guys have to iso and just stand around with the ball. We're trying to help each other by playing faster and to the shot clock, and it's working. It's getting guys good looks and putting guys in rhythm off shots."

George, averaging 23.5 points a game, has made 24-of-41 field goals and 11-of-21 threes in the last two games, adding 15 rebounds and 11 assists. He has 39 rebounds and 23 assists in the last four games.

Schroder had a season-high 12 assists to go with 15 points against the Knicks.

"I've got to be aggressive first," Schroder told the Oklahoman. "When someone commits to me, just try to find an open man and they knock down some shots. Especially P (George)."

The Thunder also has played well on defense in Westbrook's absence, limiting opponents to 44.4 percent field goal shooting and 96.2 points a game while also collecting 17 turnovers per contest.

Westbrook practiced Friday but is considered questionable for Saturday's game, the third of four meetings between the teams this season.

The Suns (3-11) had lost 11 of 12 before their decisive 116-96 victory over the Spurs on Wednesday, in which forward TJ Warren continued his strong play and Devin Booker had a career-high 12 assists while reacting to San Antonio's trapping defense.

Since reentering the starting lineup against Boston last week, small forward Warren has scored 27, 21, 25 and 29 points while making 36-of-64 field goal attempts and 11-of-25 3-pointer.

Warren has 23 threes this season, five short of his career high set in the 2015-16 season and is shooting 40 percent after diligently working on his range over the summer.

"We are starting to figure out where guys are more effective," Warren said. "Coach's offense is consistent movement so everybody has to move, find the right spot. The more we get used to each other, the better we play."

The Suns shot a season-high 56 percent against the Spurs and received 25 points off the bench from Josh Jackson (14) and Jamal Crawford, who is starting to receive more playing time as the Suns play matchups with their rotations. Point guard Isaiah Canaan had a season-high 19 points and made five threes.

Deandre Ayton, who will be matched against the Thunder's physical Steven Adams, had his ninth double-double Wednesday, tying Ben Simmons as the only rookies with that many since Shaquille O'Neal had 12 in his first 14 games in 1992.

Rookie Mikal Bridges made his first start of the season against the Spurs when Trevor Ariza missed the game for personal reasons. Ariza is not expected to play Saturday.

"We look like a team who can really compete with the best in the league," Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov said. "Good win for us (but) a lot of things we can do better."

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