10:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: Suns -5.5, Over/Under: 231
A pair of emerging powerhouses meet tonight in the valley, as the red-hot Phoenix Suns look to end their perfect homestand with another victory as the Brooklyn Nets pay them a visit, from PHX Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the past decade, the most successful method of building a champion in the National Basketball Association has proven to be amassing multiple stars and the latest advocate of that method are the Nets (17-12, 3rd in Eastern Conference), who shocked the basketball world by putting together the league’s latest Big Three, as they engineered a blockbuster four-team trade with the Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, and Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for (2017-2018 MVP) James Harden (23.4 PTS, 48.9% FG, 40.2% 3FG, 8.5 REB, 11.8 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.8 BLK, 23.8 PER). Of course, Brooklyn paid a HEAVY price for the services of the three-time reigning scoring champion; Houston alone recouped a whopping four First Round Picks and four pick swaps from the Nets, who also shipped away much of their supporting cast, including (young Swingman) Caris LeVert and (promising Center) Jarrett Allen, along with the likes of Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs. Did the franchise gut it’s roster to get Harden? Absolutely. But did they pair him with (All-NBA talents) Kevin Durant (29.0 PTS, 52.4% FG, 43.4% 3FG, 7.3 REB, 5.3 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.4 BLK, 25.0 PER) and Kyrie Irving (28.3 PTS, 53.4% FG, 44.2% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 5.7 AST, 1.1 SL, 0.8 BLK, 25.3 PER) in an effort to create arguably the most prolific attack in the NBA? You bet your ass they did? Since the trade (Head Coach) Steve Nash’s charges have exploded on the offensive end of the court, averaging a league-high 123.8 points per game on 51.0% shooting from the field, including 41.2% from beyond the arc, along with 27.9 assists in comparison to just 14.3 turnovers, while netting 19.1 free-throws on 22.6 attempts (84.8%). Furthermore, they’ve managed to top 120 points on TEN occasions, including back-to-back affairs of 130+ points in their last two outings. What’s been remarkable though is that this eruption has occurred with Durant, Harden, and Irving all on the hardwood at the same time for just eight of the last sixteen games. Irving was MIA for nearly a week, while Durant was pulled at Halftime of an affair with the Raptors due to the NBA’s Health/Safety Protocols two weeks ago and missed he following three games before making his return in Saturday’s 134-117 thumping of the Golden State Warriors, the franchise that he led to consecutive NBA titles (2017 and 2018). Unfortunately, the 2013-2014 MVP tweaked his hamstring in the affair and will miss the next two games, including tonight’s matchup with the Suns, which continues a five-game western road trip that will end with a Los Angeles two-step against the Lakers and Clippers. Of course, that should serve as quite the litmus test for a team that fashions itself as a bonafide championship contender, though must overcome some serious flaws on the defensive end of the hardwood to achieve those goals. Since the Harden deal, the Nets have relinquished an NBA-high 121.6 points per game on 48.0% shooting from the field, including 35.5% from downtown, along with 25.0 assists in comparison to committing a scant 10.7 turnovers. Their biggest weakness is their inability to keep their opponents out of the paint, where they’ve scored a staggering 54.3 points, surpassing sixty points in that particular area on six occasions over the last sixteen contests. And this is where parting ways with so many members of the rotation has hurt them; as prolific as they are offensively, neither Harden or Irving have never been confused with being defensive stoppers on the perimeter, while the departure of the aforementioned Allen, who was averaging a career-high 1.6 blocks, has left (veteran Center) DeAndre Jordan (7.1 PTS, 78.0% FG, 7.0 REB, 1.9 AST, 1.3 BLK, 16.6 PER) as the only true big man available. At this point of his career, the 32-year old is more of a name than a difference-maker and with that said is just one player who has appeared overwhelmed more often than not, particularly with Durant out of the lineup, whose length has been invaluable as a help defender.
“It’s a movie, like a show. Sometimes I forget I’m on the court. One of the reasons why I’m here. He makes the game so easy for the rest of the team when he has it going like that.”James Harden on Kyrie Irving’s 40-point performance in Monday night’s 136-125 win over the Kings
When we last saw the Nets, they won their third consecutive game and second straight on this road trip via a 136-125 victory at the Sacramento Kings on Monday night. With Durant out with that aforementioned ailing hamstring, Harden and Irving literally CARRIED the team as Brooklyn’s Backcourt dominated the affair; the dynamic duo either scored or assisted on a ridiculous 112 of their team’s 136 points, with Harden accounting for twenty-nine points on 10-of-18 shooting (55.6%), including 6-of-10 from beyond the arc (60.0%), thirteen rebounds and eleven assists, while Irving scored forty points on a torrid 15-of-22 shooting (68.2%), including an insane 9-of-11 from downtown (81.8%), along with four rebounds, three assists, and a pair of steals. Monday’s performance marked the seventh time that the latter scored at least thirty points in the last twenty outings. As a team, five different players scored in double-figures, with the Bench contributing with forty-one points, led by the aforementioned Jordan, who dropped ten points, eight rebounds, and four assists after sitting out the previous game due to personal reasons. As a team, Nash’s troops shot a blistering 57.3% from the field, including a franchise record 27-of-47 from three (57.4%), dishing out thirty-one assists opposed to committing fifteen turnovers. The barrage from the perimeter was indeed key to this victory, as the visitors outscored the home side by a staggering FORTY-FIVE points. Furthermore, the Nets surpassed the 130-point threshold for the eighth time already, which is also a franchise record, and they only needed twenty-nine games to do it. However, as much as we gush over their offensive exploits, Nash knows that his side has to get to stops in order to get to where they want to go, and at midway through through the Third Quarter that is precisely what his charges did. At one point Brooklyn clung to an 82-80 lead in the period, only to put together a 20-0 run that broke the affair wide open. In the Third Quarter they relegated the hosts to a poor 38.1% shooting from the floor, including 1-of-7 from long-range (14.3%), with as many turnovers (4) as assists, while the visiting side poured in thirty-three points, fourteen of which came courtesy of Irving, on an efficient 13-of-20 shooting (65.0%), including 7-of-12 from deep (58.3%).
Meanwhile, looking to separate themselves from the glut of second-tier teams out west, the Suns (17-9, 4th in Western Conference) are rising, folks, as they look to end a decade-long Playoff drought, the longest in franchise history. Of course, Phoenix offered a glimpse of their potential during the Bubble, where they were one of six teams invited to participate in the NBA’s seeding games following their restart from the COIVD-19 hiatus which paused all league activities for over four months. Indeed, no team handled themselves better in Orlando than (Head Coach) Monty Williams’ charges, who were the only club to win all eight games in that truncated period, narrowly missing out on a spot in the West’s Play-In Game. Rather than sit back content with what they had accomplished, the organization fired the first major shot of the truncated offseason, acquiring (nine-time All-NBA Point Guard) Chris Paul (16.7 PTS, 48.2% FG, 35.8% 3FG, 4.7 REB, 8.2 AST, 1.2 STL, 19.8 PER) in a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, which absolutely legitimized them as one of the most improved sides in the Association. Even at 34-years old, Paul was able to lead a young Thunder team to the Fifth Seed in the Western hierarchy, which was a surprise to many, before ultimately pushing his former employers, the Houston Rockets, to seven games in the First Round of the Playoffs. Viewed as overachieving by any metric, the brass in Phoenix were clearly impressed by what transpired and were left to imagine what the veteran floor general could do with a similar collection of young talent. Of course, having Williams on board only made the sell that much easier; the 49-year old coached Paul back in the 2010-2011 season with the New Orleans Hornets, which was coincidentally his final season with the franchise that drafted him back in 2005. So how has the ten-time All-Star acclimated to life in the desert, you ask? To the surprise of absolutely NOBODY, Paul is once again working his magic; the Suns have won nine of their last ten games, including six straight, a run highlighted by significant victories over two over the East’s powerhouses, the Milwaukee Bucks (125-124 OT) and Philadelphia 76ers (120-111) in successive outings. During this stretch they’ve been extremely efficient on the offensive end of the court, averaging 51.3% shooting from the field, including 38.2% from beyond the arc, dishing out 25.7 assists in comparison to 12.2 turnovers, while clamping down on the defensive end allowing just 103.5 points on 43.5% shooting overall and 31.6% from downtown. It has certainly helped that (sharpshooting Guard) Devin Booker (24.5 PTS, 49.4% FG, 36.4% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 4.3 AST, 0.9 STL, 17.3 PER) has returned to health after a tender hamstring that sidelined him for a little over a week, with the 24-year old All-Star developing beautiful chemistry with his veteran teammate, averaging 28.3 points 54.7% shooting from the floor and 43.8% from three during this winning streak, including thirty and thirty-six points in the back-to-back wins over Milwaukee and Philadelphia. However, Booker isn’t the only young talent to benefit from Paul’s influence for there are a wealth of intriguing pieces to found on this roster. 2018 No. One Overall Pick, DeAndre Ayton (13.8 PTS, 58.4% FG, 12.3 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.0 STL, 17.7 PER) is just oozing with untapped potential within his 6-11, 250-lb frame, while (two-way Swingman) Mikal Bridges (14.3 PTS, 50.2% FG, 39.5% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 2.1 AST, 0.6 STL, 1.0 BLK, 16.5 PER) already looks like one of the best 3 & D players in the league at just 24-years old.
“We did what we had to do to win the game. We’ve had some really emotional games in this building and to win the way we’ve won the past few games, we didn’t even want to talk about a letdown.”Monty Williams, on the Suns comfortable 109-90 victory on Sunday over the Magic following hard-fought wins over the Bucks and 76ers
When we last saw the Suns, they extended their current win streak to six games by thumping another Eastern Conference side, the Orlando Magic in a comfortable 109-90 affair. This one was never close, folks, as Phoenix raced out to an early 14-2 lead in the First Quarter en route to a commanding 52-35 advantage at Halftime, with their defense against the shorthanded Magic, who were missing a staggering EIGHT players due to injury, proving to be the difference. The hosts relegated the visiting side, who missed all but one of their first thirteen shots overall, to a miserable 27.3% shooting from the field, including 4-of-20 from beyond the arc (20.0%), with nearly as many turnovers (6) as assists (7), while Booker went OFF in the first period of action in which he scored seventeen of his twenty-seven points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor (80.0%). Leading by as much as twenty-seven points, the Suns never trailed in this game, shooting 44.6% from the field, including 12-of-37 from downtown (32.4%) in which they outscored the visitors by eighteen points in that regard, while dishing out a healthy twenty-four assists opposed to committing a scant eight turnovers. Apart from Booker’s early theatrics, Bridges totaled twenty-one points on 7-of-13 shooting (53.8%), including 3-of-5 from three (60.0%), with five rebounds and a pair of steals, while Paul quietly filled the stat sheet with a dozen points, six rebounds, nine assists, and two steals. Ayton was a monster on the glass with thirteen rebounds, including four of the offensive variety, to pair with his ten points, while (veteran Swingman) Jae Crowder (10.1 PTS, 37.3% FG, 34.6% 3FG, 5.1 REB, 2.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 11.1 PER), who joined the incoming Paul as a key offseason arrival and on his fourth team in three years, contributed off the bench with twelve points and eight rebounds. The reserves as a whole totaled thirty-five points, with (young Forward) Dario Saric adding seven points and five rebounds in just his second game back following a lengthy spell away from the hardwood; the Croatian international missed thirteen straight games due to COVID-19 and an ankle injury, with his size and athleticism adding another dimension to this developing unit. The home side were dominant in this contest across the board, outscoring the Magic 46-30 in the paint, 19-2 in transition, and parlayed their opponent’s ten turnovers into seventeen points, while relinquishing zero the other way. Phoenix will be looking to close out this homestand with a perfect seven wins, though Paul will need to overcome a familiar face in order to do so, for with the Nets comes the aforementioned Harden, whom he starred alongside in Houston from 2017-2019. The two-year marriage was largely successful with the Rockets coming oh so close to toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in Game Seven of the 2018 Western Conference Finals (with Paul missing the affair with a sore hamstring), before the All-Stars came into conflict with one another leading to CP3’s eventual trade to Oklahoma City.