Russell Westbrook
Suns-Thunder Preview
Russell Westbrook

Suns-Thunder Preview

Published Dec. 31, 2015 1:41 a.m. ET

The short-term picture shows Oklahoma City seeking to maintain its offensive rhythm in a bid to wrap up a four-game homestand with three consecutive wins. That may lead to long-term benefits of the Thunder's reserve players further defining their roles in the rotation against a reeling Phoenix Suns team whose season is quickly going off the rails.

After a Christmas Day loss Chicago, the Thunder (22-10) have run up 253 points in beating Denver and Milwaukee, shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 90.2 percent (55 of 61) from the foul line. While stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have hovered right around their respective scoring averages of 26.6 and 25.6, respectively, and combined for 109 points, it's been Oklahoma City's bench that has provided an extra push.

"Everybody is touching it and everybody is feeling good," Durant told the team's official website. "When guys are scrambling, we're driving those clouts, trying to find the open man. That's easy basketball."

The reserves have accounted for 88 points in the last two contests, sparked by Enes Kanter's best stretch of the season. Kanter is averaging 18.5 points on 68.2 percent shooting and 10.0 rebounds in his last four games and has posted consecutive 20-point efforts for the first time this season after scoring 23 in Tuesday's 131-123 win over the Bucks.


"He did a great job tonight of playing off of our guards," Westbrook said of Kanter.

Durant added: "He's doing a great job of making himself available, catching passes, finishing well and rebounding the ball on the offensive glass."

While Kanter has been solid all season, averaging 12.0 points and 8.2 rebounds, rookie Cameron Payne is finally finding his sea legs. The 14th overall pick, who has as many DNPs (16) as games played, hit a pair of 3-pointers and finished with a season-high 16 points and matched a season high with three assists.

"All I can say is hard work pays off. Just stay in the gym, keep working,'' said Payne, who also hit a pair of 3s in the victory over Denver. "Really it's just the confidence from the other payers that they give me and I just come out there and play comfortable."

As the Thunder have found their comfort zone, the Suns (12-22) are completely out of sorts, mired in a six-game losing streak that has put coach Jeff Hornacek's job in jeopardy after assistants Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting were fired Monday.

Hornacek's task to get Phoenix on track became more difficult after losing leading scorer Eric Bledsoe to a season-ending knee injury, and the pall from his absence lingered in Wednesday's 112-79 drubbing by San Antonio.

"We caught a break," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They've had some injuries and are missing guys that they need."

Unlike Monday's 101-97 competitive home loss to Cleveland, the Suns were run out of the building from the opening tip - getting outscored 32-12 in the first quarter and trailed by as much as 38. Devin Booker has totaled 19 points starting the last two games - less than Bledsoe's season average of 20.4.

Bledsoe was in the lineup in the first meeting between the teams Nov. 8 and scored 28, but the Thunder pulled away for a 124-103 victory as Durant had 32 points, Westbrook added 21 and 13 assists and Kanter contributed 21 points off the bench.

Oklahoma City has averaged 117.9 points during a nine-game home winning streak over Phoenix.


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