Thunder hope to play from in front vs. Suns

NBA
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Over the past two games, the Oklahoma City Thunder accomplished something no other NBA team has done in 20 seasons.

The Phoenix Suns, meanwhile, are preparing for the second game back for their second-year star center.

On Friday, the teams meet in Oklahoma City with the Thunder hoping they don’t have to make it three straight and the Suns hoping to take strides as they try to work Deandre Ayton into the lineup.

In wins over the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies earlier this week, the Thunder became the first NBA team in two decades to win back-to-back games after overcoming deficits of at least 24 points in each contest. The last team to perform such an escape act was the 2009-10 Indiana Pacers.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan appreciates the positives that the comebacks have shown but knows the team can’t continue having success if it keeps falling behind big.

“I think it’s a great quality that shows these guys’ competitiveness and how much they want to win,” Donovan said. “Now, the other part is, it’s not sustainable. … We can’t become the team we want to become playing 24 minutes.”

A big part of Oklahoma City’s second-half success over the past two games was the play of point guards Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder.

Paul averaged 24 points, seven rebounds and 6.5 assists in that span, and he has just 10 turnovers total in the past eight games overall.

Schroder averaged 24.5 and six assists against the Bulls and Grizzlies. In the Wednesday win, he scored 22 of his game-high 31 points in the second half.

The Suns have dropped four consecutive games but have renewed optimism after the Tuesday return of Deandre Ayton. Following the season opener, the 21-year-old center was suspended for 25 games after testing positive for a diuretic.

Phoenix went 10-15 without Ayton.

While Suns coach Monty Williams said Ayton was in a good place physically upon his return, he added it would take 10 games or so to reintegrate him fully.

“Just build his conditioning up so he’d have a foundation,” Williams said of Ayton. “There’s nothing like playing in the game, but the ability to get out on the floor and play three-on-three, four-on-four, then five-on-five, that progression, we hope, laid a foundation for him.”

Ayton had 18 points, 12 rebounds and a block in 24 minutes on Tuesday in the Suns’ 120-99 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Phoenix hopes to get guard Devin Booker back after missing the past three games due to forearm soreness.

Booker and Ayton have played together just once before this season, in the season-opening win over the Sacramento Kings. The two combined for 40 points, and Ayton grabbed 11 rebounds while Booker handed out 10 assists.

Oklahoma City recalled Deonte Burton from the G League on Thursday.

The second-year guard was a part of the Thunder’s reserve group before being suspended Dec. 6 for one game for “conduct detrimental to the team.” The next day, Burton was assigned to the G League’s Oklahoma City Blue, for whom he has produced averages of 16.1 points and 8.7 rebounds in seven games this season.

–Field Level Media

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