NBA Basketball

Thunder not overlooking struggling Suns

OKLAHOMA CITY -- For much of the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have struggled against teams near the bottom of the standings but experienced success over teams near the top.

Recently, though, that trend has flipped as the Thunder have lost to teams such as Cleveland, Golden State, Portland and Houston while beating up on lower-run opponents.

Oklahoma City needs to turn one side of that equation around if it wants to make a run in the playoffs, but the Thunder hope the other side of that trend continues as they host the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Thunder is 18-11 this season against teams with sub-.500 records but have won their last six such games.

Wednesday, injured Oklahoma City guard Andre Roberson spoke to the media for the first time since suffering a season-ending patellar tendon injury Jan. 27 in Detroit.

"I'm doing everything I can to stay involved," Roberson said. "Being around the guys just makes me feel not alone, because a lot of time, I'm alone -- four walls -- by myself, doing rehab with someone one-on-one.

Roberson remains unable to watch his team from the bench or accompany the team on road trips as he works to regain his mobility.

Roberson's absence has hurt the Thunder, which had the NBA's sixth-rated defense with 103.6 points allowed per 100 possessions when Roberson went down.

Over the last 17 games, though, the Thunder is giving up 109.2, 21st-best in the league.

The Thunder are forcing 1.2 fewer turnovers without Robertson in the lineup and opponents are shooting four percent better from behind the 3-point line.

With Tuesday night's loss to the Houston Rockets, the Thunder fell to seventh in the bunched-up Western Conference.

Phoenix is just trying to get some positive momentum as the season winds down. The Suns are 3-21 over the last 24 games and 1-13 over their past 14.

Phoenix's only win during that stretch came Feb. 28 at Memphis.

The teams have split their two meetings this season, with Phoenix winning Jan. 7 and the Thunder winning Friday, both in Phoenix.

While the Suns have struggled, Devin Booker hasn't. In those two games against the Thunder, the Suns third-year guard is averaging 32.5 points and shooting 55 percent from behind the arc.

Booker has scored at least 30 points in five out of the last six games and at least 27 points in seven of the last eight.

For the season, Booker is averaging 25.2 points, 4.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds -- all career-best marks.

Booker is trying to get comfortable both with an expanded leadership role and the slow march toward relevance.

"We want to be known as winners. We want to turn around this franchise and we know it's not going to be easy," Booker told the Arizona Republic.

"It's not going to be pretty or cute. There are going to be ugly, grinding, nasty moments when you get on each other sometimes and that's just how it's going to have to be."

Updated March 7, 2018

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