What: Phoenix Suns at Washington Wizards
When: 5:00 PM AZ Time
Where: Verizon Center, Washington, DC.
Watch: Fox Sports AZ
Listen: AZ Sports 98.7FM and KSUN 1400AM (Spanish)
This game could go either way. I think that it will come down to which team just wants the win more.
Both the Suns and the Wizards have had difficult starts to their seasons this year and both are hungry for another "W". Washington had much higher hopes than Phoenix before the season started however. After their playoff hopes began to erode last season due a string of unfortunate injuries, they traded their pick in the last draft (along with Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair) to the Suns for Markieff Morris to try and right their ship. It didn't work out for them. After adding new head coach Scott Brooks and making a few roster tweaks in the off-season, they had hoped to get back into the playoff race this season but so far that hasn't worked out either.
The Wizards have a strong starting five led by three time All Star John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat but their bench has been pretty bad so far this season which leaves winning games pretty much up to the starters. When the always blunt and outspoken Marcin Gortat was asked about the Wizards second unit recently he replied, "I think right now as far as I know I think we’ve got one of the worst bench in the league right now." HoopsStats.com agrees. They rank Washington's bench as the worst in the NBA with a -19.1 point differential while the Suns bench ranks 6th with a +7.6 point differential. And looking at raw ppg averages, the Suns' bench averages 40.6 points as opposed to The Wizards' 25.6 points.
The Suns have gone through some changes in their starting lineup with Jared Dudley moving to the bench while rookie Marquess Chriss transitioned to the starter's spot at power forward. Although the change hasn't seemed to have had much of an effect on the starting unit, it did strengthen the Suns bench which should give them something of an edge in that matchup. But Washington's starters are ranked 6th in the NBA with a 13.0 point differential while Phoenix's starters fall all the way to 29th with a -22.4 point differential. When you add it all up it looks as though the Suns will have a tough night unless they can somehow force Washington into playing their bench more than they are comfortable with.
PG: Eric Bledsoe vs. John Wall
SG: Devin Booker vs. Bradley Beal
SF: PJ Tucker vs. Otto Porter Jr.
PF: Marquese Chriss vs. Markieff Morris
C: Alex Len vs. Marcin Gortat
UPDATE! Both TJ Warren and Tyson Chandler are out. Paul Coro reports that Brandon Knight will start at SG, Devin Booker will start at SF and Tyler Ulis will be the primary backup to Eric Bledsoe at PG.
Eric Bledsoe is going to have his hands full defensively trying to contain Wall but that goes both ways. Bledsoe and Wall know each other very well as together they were the starying back court for the 2009-10 Kentucky Wildcats. Wall leads the Wizards in scoring this season (24.0 ppg) but some have been critical of his defense so far. If Eric brings his "A game" this could be the key matchup.
The duel between Devin Booker and Bradley Beal could be an interesting one to watch. Although Beal so far hasn't lived up to the expectations that got him a huge contract extension last year and has started off the season with some injury problems (again), Booker has had his own ups and downs and minor injury problems too.
The possible TJ Warren vs Otto Porter Jr. battle could be a great matchup to watch but Warren is still listed as "day-to-day" on whether he will be available for the game due to his illness. Porter and Warren were named as two of the 10 most surprising players so far this season according to USA Sports. Both players have stepped up in a big way for their respective teams this year. Porter is averaging 14.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.7 spg, shooting 38.6% from three and maintaining a .503 FG% overall. Warren is averaging 17.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.9 spg while shooting 30.8% from three and maintaining a .458 FG% overall. But at the moment it looks as though it will be up to PJ Tucker to pester Porter into having an off game and hopefully contribute some points of his own to the effort.
Then you have the potential Tyson Chandler matchup with former Sun Marcin Gortat. So far Gortat is averaging a double-double this season (11.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg). If Chandler plays tonight, everyone should be looking to get lobs to him as Gortat has no chance at stopping those plays without fouling. If Chandler is still unavailable, Alex Len will need to have a strong game. Even though he's been inconsistent, he has had 3 double-doubles so far this season and has hit 64.3% of his field goal attempts in his last two starts.
And from a certain point of view, the most interesting matchup could be between Suns rookie Marquese Chriss and former Sun Markieff Morris. Morris certainly has the NBA experience edge on the Suns' rookie but their games are very different. I don't think that Markieff can really guard Marquese well but the opposite is probably also true. Markieff certainly has few fans left in Phoenix and the draft pick that the Suns acquired for him from the Wizards made it possible for the Suns to move up in the draft to select Marquese with the 8th pick. In effect the Suns traded Markieff for Marquese so this first matchup between the two will be significant to many I think. Morris suffered a sprained ankle in the Wizards' Saturday night game with the Heat and is listed as "day-to-day" regarding his availability for tonight's game so this matchup might not happen but he said yesterday that he would play.
Call me overly optimistic if you must but I'm picking the Suns to win this one 108-100.