- Tip-off: 9:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
PHOENIX – It doesn’t matter who the opposing coach, GM, owner, players, trainer, ballboy, arena host or security guard is, according to Russell Westbrook. He’s going to play the same way no matter what.
And with the chance to clinch his 42nd triple-double of the season to break Oscar Robertson’s record, and also to seal his triple-double average for the season, Westbrook will play the exact same way he has in the previous 78 games of the season. Tonight against the Phoenix Suns, Westbrook and the Thunder will be hunting just one thing, a win.
“For me, winning is always most important,” Westbrook explained. “There are going to be individual games where I play great or other guys play great. The most important part is making sure our team is always feeling comfortable in it.”
“As a leader, I try to make sure everybody comfortable and understands that team is first,” Westbrook added.
Despite their current 13-game losing streak, the Suns are a talented young team that is still learning to win. In the backcourt, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker provide completely opposite skill sets, but ones that are difficult to deal with. Ulis is a waterbug point guard, short but speedy and quick to get into the lane and finish creatively. Booker is a sharpshooter who registered 70 points in a game against the Boston Celtics earlier this season. The Thunder’s defense will certainly be challenged tonight, even though the Thunder has played well the past two games.
“Sometimes when you’re playing good basketball, you have to fight to continue to play good basketball,” Head Coach Billy Donovan noted. “It’s not just about showing up, it’s getting ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally ready to play, collectively as a group together as one. There’s a lot of energy that goes into doing that.”
One of the reasons the Suns can be pesky is that they’ve shown they might pressure full court at the guard positions, trying to bother Russell Westbrook, Semaj Christon and Victor Oladipo by picking them up early. Last time these two teams met in Phoenix, the Thunder turned it over 19 times and the two squads combined for over 60 free throws. Whether it’s initiating offense from further up the floor or using size and physicality, the Thunder has to play with a high degree of attention and toughness.
“They’re a scrappy team and they’re always in the game. They find ways to compete, especially here at home,” Westbrook said. “You have to use your size, your speed and quickness, and just attack it.”
“They’re a team that plays with really good energy,” Donovan explained. “When you’re on the road, you have to be able to match that.”
At the other guard spot for the Thunder, it appears that Andre Roberson will most likely miss tonight’s game with some knee soreness. Alex Abrines is still back in Oklahoma City recovering from a sprained knee, so the two options Donovan and the coaching staff will likely look to as a starter are Doug McDermott and Semaj Christon. There will likely also be more opportunities for Jerami Grant along the wing.
“Jerami is verasatile. He can do a lot of different things for us,” Donovan said. “He can play the three, he can play the four. We’ll need to find ways to utilize him tonight.”