Suns-Thunder Game Preview: April 18
Posted: April 18, 2012
As much as they have struggled against the Oklahoma City Thunder lately, the Phoenix Suns would surely be thrilled to be playing them again next week.
That would likely suit Oklahoma City just fine as long as it's a No. 1 seed.
The Thunder are looking to recover from a miserable half of basketball - and easily their lowest-scoring game of the season - heading into Phoenix on Wednesday night for a possible playoff preview.
While Oklahoma City (44-17) has clinched the Northwest Division, its seeding in the Western Conference and first-round opponent next weekend are far from decided with five games remaining.
The Thunder are in a tight battle with San Antonio for the best record in the West, but the Spurs own the tiebreaker because they won the season series. If Oklahoma City does finish atop the conference, it could open the postseason against a Suns team that has moved into a tie with Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot.
While the Thunder have been at or near the top of the West all season, Phoenix (32-29) had the conference's third-worst record two months ago.
"People had us for dead beginning of the season, middle of the season, All-Star break," forward Jared Dudley said. "And we've worked our butts off, we've played through it, guys have learned their roles and I think we're ready to do it."
The Thunder haven't looked very playoff-ready of late, dropping five of nine. They blew a nine-point halftime lead Monday in a 92-77 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, getting held to 25 second-half points on 9-of-31 shooting (29.0 percent).
Russell Westbrook had nine points - his fewest since December - and shot 4 of 16 as Oklahoma City was held below 84 points for the first time since Jan. 1, 2011, at San Antonio.
"There's no time to panic right now," said Kevin Durant, who had 19 of his 24 points in the first half. "We have to win the next game in order to get our momentum back."
The Thunder have lost their last five games against teams with winning records but have won five in a row versus Phoenix, including two this season - both in Oklahoma. The Suns have surrendered an average of 114.2 points during that skid.
Phoenix's final five opponents all have winning records and four are among the top six teams in the West. The good news is four of the Suns' remaining games are at home, where they are 11-2 since the All-Star break.
"The sense of urgency has been here since the All-Star game," Steve Nash said after handing out 13 assists in Monday's 125-107 win over Portland. "I think we're playing that way every game, and have felt that through the last few weeks."
Nash, 14 assists shy of Oscar Robertson for fifth all-time, has been held to 10.2 points per game and 4 of 15 from 3-point range during the five-game skid versus Oklahoma City.
Westbrook has shot at least 50.0 percent from the field in four straight against Phoenix, averaging 24.3 points. He had 31 points and 10 assists in a 115-104 win over the Suns on March 7 in the most recent matchup while Durant and James Harden each scored 30.
Harden, a former Arizona State star, has averaged 22.0 points on 61.5 percent shooting in the past four meetings.
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