Chris Paul faces old team as Suns host Thunder

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·3 min read
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) drives on New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Bledsoe during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Fighting to emerge from a rocky stretch, the Phoenix Suns will look for even more progress when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.

While the Suns are close to pushing through, the Thunder enter the finale of a five-game trip with a little momentum after halting a three-game slide with a 125-122 victory Monday over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Wednesday's game will pit Suns veteran Chris Paul against a Thunder team that traded him in November as part of a rebuilding effort.

The Suns have lost six of their past nine games after a 5-1 start to the season, but reasons for hope have emerged. They are coming off back-to-back narrow defeats against the Denver Nuggets, falling in overtime in the first game and double OT on Saturday.

Saturday's 120-112 defeat only went to extra time when Denver's Jamal Murray made a leaning 3-pointer at the end of regulation while falling out of bounds.

Paul and Jae Crowder each scored 21 points for the Suns, while Paul added 13 assists and Deandre Ayton had 17 points with 13 rebounds before he fouled out in the first overtime.

Phoenix was playing without leading scorer Devin Booker because of a left-hamstring strain, and he might not be ready to play Wednesday, either. The injury happened in overtime Friday.

The Suns had Sunday off and gathered for a light workout Monday feeling positive about the road ahead.

"I see what our team is capable of, and once we make this little tweak here or tweak there, then it's the belief of knowing that you can win; that's very important for a team," Paul said in advance of Wednesday's game. "I think it will be huge to pull out a few of these games, and then it's just this confidence we have going into games."

To the Thunder's credit, they refuse to see themselves as a rebuilding club not ready to win. They are just two games under .500 at 7-9 and have a five-game home stretch starting Friday when the Brooklyn Nets come to town.

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has shown his star potential, scoring a career-best 21.9 points per game with 5.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists. The third-year player had 24 points with nine rebounds and six assists as the Thunder won on the Trail Blazers' home court Monday. Mike Muscala added 23 points and a career-best six 3-pointers.

"Top to bottom, I thought our energy, competitiveness, pace, and the thrust we played with was sustained throughout the game, and we got it 1 through 10," OKC coach Mark Diagneault said. "Everybody that touched the court brought that type of edge. Obviously, really, really happy with the way we played."

The Thunder won despite playing without Al Horford (11.1 points, 7.1 rebounds), who has been out since Jan. 15 for the birth of his daughter. George Hill (11.8 points) also was out with a strained right thumb. Both are listed as day-to-day.

--Field Level Media