Oklahoma City at Phoenix
Time: 9 PM CT (NBA TV)
Spread: OKC -8
Odds c/o Bet Online
The Phoenix Suns have tanked right: Resting Eric Bledsoe for the final stretch of the season has resulted in PHX dropping its past 13 (!) games to fall to a putrid 22-57, as possessors of the worst record in the Western Conference. The Suns will host MVP candidate Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder as 8-point underdogs, but this game easily could get far out of hand and turn into a very lopsided blowout. Eight points is conservative. Consider yourselves warned.
Phoenix has done little right this season, but its most glaring failure has been its team defense. The Suns are giving up 113.3 points per game, and for all the excitement about Devin Booker dropping 70 points in a game, the Suns lost that game. And most others.
The lack of defensive rotations, as well as preferring to give time to the younger players, has resulted in a team that is anchored by a former Defensive Player of the Year (Tyson Chandler) being the league’s worst ‘D.’ Chandler, albeit declined, has been unable to save the host of Suns defenders who prefer to spend their efforts scoring the ball. To be sure, the Suns have done that: Phoenix averages 107.4 points per game, but doing the math they still have the second-worst point differential in the West, and the third-worst in the league.
The good news is that the Suns should be able to secure a top-three pick, but the bad news is that this is a guard-heavy draft and Phoenix is already the definition of a guard-heavy team. While the Suns boast an abundance of guards, appropriate in this era, it is not a good shooting club with many guards who simply lack jumpshots. Not the least of these is max-contract quasi-superstar Eric Bledsoe, who is good for just 33 percent of his triples.
Even Booker, billed as a lights out shooter of sorts, is hitting just a passable 36 percent, and the Suns make just 7.5 triples per game at a 33.1 percent clip. It seems the time is nigh for Phoenix to flip some of its playmakers and slashers for a few court spacers, but all in due time, for the Suns will likely be very active in re-tooling its roster this offseason.
All things said, they probably still have a better host of prospect than the (overhyped) L.A. Lakers, and with Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis, T.J. Warren, Alan Williams, Dragan Bender—and Booker— the future is really rather bright in the Valley of the Sun. All of those prospects have shown flashes, and once matured could be very solid NBA talents.
OKC has more or less been the Westbrook show this season, but what else would be expected when Russ is averaging a triple-double, a feat considered nearly impossible since Oscar Robertson achieved it decades ago. Westbrook still has heavy contention to win the MVP award due to James Harden and the Rockets’ overall brilliance, but even if he is snubbed for the award this will go down as a season for the ages. Westbrook is putting the icing on a sure-fire Hall of Fame career, but his supporting cast is weak.
It is unlikely the sixth-seeded Thunder can advance past the second round, if it is even fortunate enough to upset whichever team (likely Houston, oddly enough) in the first round. The Thunder’s second-best offensive weapon is sixth man Enes Kanter, and Victor Oladipo has not improved much since leaving the Orlando Magic. The Thunder need only add another shooter and offensive weapon, and one cannot help but think the departed Dion Waiters may have just been perfect for that role.
Waiters has gone on to shine in Miami, and at this point the Thunder surely rue their decision to let the former No. 4 overall pick walk without getting any sort of compensation. For the time being, though, NBA fans and OKC fans alike are just enjoying the Westbrook show. Because we may not see this again; that is, until Russ does it next year.