Time: 5 pm (local)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
The Phoenix Suns (3-9) continue with their third game of a six-game road trip, this time taking their show to Indianapolis to face the 6-6 Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers come into this game having won two straight games, the most recent being a 103-93 win over the LeBron-less Cleveland Cavaliers. This matchup concludes a four-game homestand for Indiana.
Paul George, as usual, leads the Pacers’ attack. He averages 21 points, seven rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 40.3 percent on 3-pointers and 92.3 percent from the free throw line in 34.7 minutes per game. After George, Indiana leans on Jeff Teague (14.4 points, 6.4 assists) and Myles Turner (14.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks), with Turner ranked 4th in the league in blocks per game. Monta Ellis has averaged just 10.6 points over the first 12 games for the Pacers, and head coach Nate McMillan even tried bringing Ellis off the bench for a game earlier this season. He did have a career-high five blocks against Cleveland, though. Al Jefferson, a high-profile pickup in the offseason, has seen most of his minutes go to the sophomore Turner, as Jefferson averages 6.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in 14.9 minutes off the bench. C.J. Miles averages 14.1 points off Indiana’s bench with a deadly outside stroke (48.4 percent from 3). Rodney Stuckey, who has played just two games due to a hamstring injury, could return to action tonight.
The Pacers average 106.3 points per game, which is the most a Pacer team has averaged since 1992-93 (107.8). Their offense is aided by their 46.3-percent shooting from the field (6th in the NBA) and 35.6 percent from 3. The problem is that they give up 106.8 points per game on 45.1-percent shooting (worst opponent FG% since 2009-10), and that is despite leading the league in blocks (6.8) and ranking fourth in steals (9.7). As a team, Indiana is also one of the NBA’s poorer rebounding teams, averaging just 42.3 per game — a number that is exacerbated by Indiana’s pace, which ranks in the top third of the league.
Points: Paul George (21.0)
Rebounds: Myles Turner (7.1)
Assists: Jeff Teague (6.4)
The Suns have surrendered 120+ points to three consecutive opponents for the first time since the 1988-89 season. That’s…not good.
Devin Booker, who earned his first career ejection against the Nuggets, has been the Suns’ most consistent scorer, averaging a team-best 20.5 points per game. That is a far cry from being the team’s most efficient scorer, however. T.J. Warren, who was that for much of this early season, had his worst game of the season Wednesday against Denver, with a meek eight points on 2-of-11 shooting. Brandon Knight compensated for lesser efforts from Warren and Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix’s previous game by scoring a season-high 32 points off the bench on 12-of-20 shooting. Alex Len will return to the starting lineup tonight, as Tyson Chandler has returned to California for his mother’s funeral services. Dragan Bender celebrated his 19th birthday yesterday.
The Suns surrender 116 points per game (worst in the NBA), allow their opponents to shoot 38.3 percent from 3, and commit more fouls than any other team. Phoenix has clearly figured out how to beat themselves; now they need to apply those lessons to their opponents. Figuring out how to shoot better than 30.5 percent from 3 (29th in the NBA) would be a start. The Suns lead the NBA in pace, but that only matters if your offense is better than the opponent’s, which this season has been a resounding no.
Points: Devin Booker (20.5)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (12.3)
Assists: Eric Bledsoe (5.2)
Tyson Chandler (Suns): personal reasons (OUT)
Rodney Stuckey (Pacers): right hamstring strain (QUESTIONABLE)
The Pacers swept the season series between these two teams last season, with the Suns falling 116-97 at Indiana on Jan. 12. That Suns team was riddled with injuries, though, with Bledsoe, Knight, Len, and Ronnie Price all out with various ailments. Booker and Mirza Teletovic led Phoenix with 19 points apiece, but Indiana countered with George (21 points), George Hill (20 points), and Miles (19 points).
In order for Phoenix to win, they need to play defense. It’s that simple. Allowing teams to regularly score 120 points against you is unacceptable, and head coach Earl Watson apparently spent practice yesterday drilling that message into his team. We will see if it took root.
C.J. Miles vs. Brandon Knight
Miles is having a career year off the bench for Indiana. He spaces the court well with his deadly outside shooting and was a key reason Phoenix fell to the Pacers on the road last season. In lieu of hoping the Suns’ porous 3-point defense can hold him in check, it will fall on Knight to counteract whatever Miles provides the Pacers. If Knight wins this matchup with Miles or at minimum battles him to a draw, then he will have done his job.
Deadpoolio’s Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by basketball-reference.com)
Tonight’s matchup between the Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers pits against each other two of only three NBA franchises that have never gone 100 or more games between 20-point wins. The Suns longest such drought was 96 games from Feb. 13, 2002 to Mar. 11, 2003. Indiana’s longest drought was 97 games, from Feb. 26, 1982 to Mar. 27, 1983.
The Boston Celtics are the third team on this list, with their longest stretch between 20-point wins totaling 95 games back in the late 70’s.