Saturday, September 24, 2022
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Preview: Phoenix Suns (62-15) at Oklahoma City Thunder (22-55)

After the Phoenix Suns’ nine-game winning streak ended with Friday’s loss in Memphis, Suns star Chris Paul was definitive.

“I guarantee by the time we get to OKC, we won’t remember this,” Paul said.

With the top spot in the Western Conference already secured, Phoenix isn’t worrying about positioning headed into Sunday’s game in Oklahoma City against the Thunder, but instead is focused on preparing for the playoffs.

“I said to a couple of players after the game that this is what we need,” Devin Booker said after the Suns’ 122-114 loss to the short-handed Grizzlies. “We have to figure it out. No matter who we played or players they rested tonight, they came in here and they beat us. So, I’d rather have it now than later down the line.”

They’ll once again be facing a short-handed squad, but one with much less firepower than Memphis.

The Thunder have played with just eight players in each of their last three games, playing entirely with players who have spent time in the G League, as they look toward the draft lottery instead of the playoffs.

The game will be Paul’s first game back in Oklahoma City with fans present since he was traded from the Thunder to the Suns before last season.

Phoenix has won all three meetings against the Thunder this season, including a 124-104 victory on Feb. 24 in both teams’ first game out of the All-Star break.

Aaron Wiggins is the only Oklahoma City starter from that game who is expected to play Sunday.

That was Paul’s first of 15 games out with a fractured thumb.

In four games since returning, Paul is averaging 14.8 points and 11.5 assists.

Friday, the Suns got Cam Johnson and JaVale McGee back from absences. Johnson had missed 13 consecutive games with a right quad contusion while McGee missed two with a non-COVID illness.

A win would give Phoenix (62-15) a franchise record for victories, breaking a tie with both the 2004-05 and 1992-93 squads.

Only a few players who played with Paul remain with the Thunder, and all but Isaiah Roby from that group are currently out with injuries.

But Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said Paul’s influence on the roster was still heavy, saying Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley particularly benefited from Paul’s leadership.

“Anytime you’re around people that raise the bar, I think that’s a good thing,” Daigneault said.

The Thunder (22-55) added Jaylen Hoard on a 10-day contract via the hardship exception Friday after Aleksej Pokusevski was ruled out with flu-like symptoms.

Hoard has spent much of the last two seasons with Oklahoma City’s G League team, playing 21 games with the Thunder.

In Friday’s 110-101 home loss to Detroit, Hoard had 11 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.

“I really wanted to get a 10-day to end the season,” Hoard said.

The Thunder could be without Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who appeared to reinjure his right foot in Friday’s loss, though Daigneault said after the game Oklahoma City was just being cautious holding Robinson-Earl out after he left the game having played less than 11 minutes.

Robinson-Earl missed two months with a right-foot fracture before returning March 28.

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