The Good Guys: The Phoenix Suns
The Bad Guys: The Indiana Pacers
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
When: 5 PM Arizona time, 7 PM EST
Radio: AZ Sports 98.7 FM
After a rare three consecutive days of mid-season rest, the Suns are finally back in action. This week they will play three road games, starting with the Pacers and moving on to the Celtics and the Timberwolves.
Unfortunately, the Suns are currently on a seven-game losing streak on the road. Their last win on the road was a two-point victory over the Bulls on December 7th, more than a month ago.
It's clear that the Suns are in a funk, and although these next three opponents all finished with sub-.500 records last season, they pose serious risks to Phoenix now. Indiana is currently 21-16, good for 6th in the arguably superior Eastern conference. Boston is hanging on as the East's 9th seed with a 19-18 record, and Minnesota is virtually tied with Phoenix in the Western standings.
The Indiana Pacers
We only get to play the Pacers twice per season, so here's some more information about the opposition in case you haven't kept up to date with the East.
Paul George is healthy once again, and he has re-emerged as a superstar player after many fans simply forgot about his existence last season. George is currently averaging 24.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game in his sixth NBA season. He is undoubtedly a top five small forward in the league, and could arguably be considered third best after James and Durant depending on how much you like Kawhi Leonard.
On the other hand, he has slowed down in the past few weeks. While George opened up the season scorching hot, he's shooting just 38 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep over his past 10 games. He's still scoring more than 20 points per game during that stretch, but on more than 17 shot attempts per night.
George is clearly the team's primary scoring option, but in general the Pacers have a guard-oriented offensive attack. Their four best scorers after Paul George are George Hill, Monta Ellis, C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey, who are combining for close to 50 points per game. Big men such as Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill are bringing rim protection and rebounding, but they aren't huge offensive threats.
Although Indiana is 5-5 over their last 10 games, they aren't simply giving away games like the Suns are. None of their recent five losses came by more than 4 points, whereas all five wins were by at least 5 points. They have an expected W-L record of 23-14 this season based on an overall point differential that is better than their actual record suggests.
Additionally, five of the Pacers' last 10 opponents didn't even manage to scratch 90 points. The Pacers are third in the league in defensive rating, making them a challenge for the Suns' struggling offense tonight.
|Phoenix Suns||Indiana Pacers|
|G||Brandon Knight||George Hill|
|G||Devin Booker||Monta Ellis|
|F||P.J. Tucker||Paul George|
|F||Jon Leuer||Lavoy Allen|
|C||Tyson Chandler||Ian Mahinmi|
Alex Len has a left hand sprain which will sideline him for tonight's game. Expect more minutes out of Tyson Chandler and the various forwards.
Ronnie Price missed the last game with a foot injury and is questionable for tonight. If he is healthy, perhaps Hornacek will start him over Devin Booker.
The entire Indiana roster is available, though Monta Ellis is dealing with a banged up knee. He is expected to suit up regardless.
The Suns are well-rested, but they're on the road against an elite defensive team. They may also be without a couple of key role players in Len and Price.
I could conceivably see Phoenix pull out an unexpected win tonight, but it's hard to bet in favor of them.
Pacers win 103-92.