What: Phoenix Suns (4-11) @ Orlando Magic (6-8)
When: 5 PM AZ Time
Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL
TV: Fox Sports AZ Plus
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7FM / KSUN 1400AM (ES)
The final game of what couldn’t possibly be a much easier road trip for the Suns is here. Tonight Phoenix will take on the 6-and-8 Orlando Magic, their 4th consecutive below .500 opponents. The Warriors were the only opponent on this six-game stretch with a winning record.
Despite that, the results haven’t been pretty. During this road trip the Suns lost to Denver by 16, to Philly by 15, and to Washington by 5. Those three teams have a combined record of 14-and-27. The lone bright spot was a victory against Indiana where the team’s bench played so well as to keep the starters riding the pine for the majority of the game.
A win against Orlando tonight could boost morale before heading home in the midst of a rough stretch, but that is far from a guaranteed outcome. For one, the Suns may be without T.J. Warren and Tyson Chandler again. That’s already a huge hit. Winning without two starters, against any team, would either require another outstanding night from the bench or else quality production out of all of Bledsoe, Booker and Knight, not just one or two. Against the Wizards Bledsoe and Booker combined for 59 to keep the team in the game, but Knight shot 2-for-7 as the starting SG with four points and four turnovers.
Knight has arguably only had one “hot” performance this season, and that was his 32-point outburst against the Nuggets last week. Coincidentally, that was the only other game I’ve previewed so far for BSotS this season. So following that logic, expect big things for Knight in Orlando.
The other developing story to watch is the emergence of Tyler Ulis and Alan Williams as role players over the past few games. Ulis has played 45 minutes over the past three games, while Williams has logged 44. The return of Chandler could demote Big Sauce back to bench warmer status, but perhaps the promising production that Watson has seen out of both players could also keep them in the rotation.
The Magic are 3-and-2 over their last five games, having won against the Thunder, Mavericks and Pelicans while losing to the Bucks and Pacers. That doesn’t tell us too much about whether they’re trending toward a winning record or playoff spot this season, as Dallas and New Orleans are both bottom feeders for now.
The Magic have plenty of youth to put on display, as three of their top five scorers are 24 or younger (Fournier, Payton, Gordon). However, they’re encountering a similar problem that Phoenix arguably has where no prospect is standing out as a future franchise player (don’t hurt me, Booker fans). 21-year-old Aaron Gordon recently lost his staring spot to Jeff Green and is putting up comparable per 36 minute numbers as last year on a worse shooting percentage. 21-year-old Mario Hezonja looks awful, shooting just 31% from the field in his sophomore season. Elfrid Payton is making strides as the team’s starting PG but is still limited without any semblance of an outside shot. And while leading scorer Evan Fournier has had an impressive start, one has to wonder how close he already is to his peak as a 5th-year player.
Also like Phoenix, the Magic have their own share of established “peak” players (Green, Ibaka, Vucevic) as well as past-prime veterans (Augustin, C.J. Watson).
The Magic enter tonight having surrendered 43 turnovers over their past three games. The Suns are even worse, with 47 turnovers over their last three. Expect a lot of sloppy playmaking tonight in an unpredictable game between two young squads.
Phoenix: Warren (Out), Chandler (Out)
Orlando: Meeks (Out)