The Good Guys: The Phoenix Suns, losers of 27 of their last 30
The Bad Guys: The Orlando Magic, who are 4-4 since the deadline
Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL
When: 5 PM MST
Radio: ESPN 620
The Suns dropped another one to the Heat last night, as was expected. However, Devin Booker and Alex Len remain the top two reasons to watch the team.
Since becoming one of the team's main offensive weapons, Booker saw a sharp drop in his shooting efficiency as defenses began to focus on him in their scouting reports. However, Booker shook off the cold spell last night with a career-high 34 against Miami, shooting 11-21 from the field. The team still lost by 16, but without Booker keeping the game watchable in the second half it could have been another 30-point loss.
Meanwhile, big man Alex Len is averaging 17 points and 11.3 rebounds per game over his last six outings. He's looking a lot more confident, and although force-feeding him touches leads to an average efficiency at best, the minutes are clearly productive to his development.
Mirza Teletovic also continues to play well, and it makes you wonder why the Suns didn't try harder to trade him at the deadline. Mirza has been on fire over the past five games, averaging 17.8 points and 6.0 boards on 47/44/73 shooting. He's playing better than Frye ever did for two-thirds the price, and yet he survived the deadline. Are the Suns potentially thinking about re-signing him, or did they really not find any compelling offers for one of the better stretch bigs in the NBA?
This is a back-to-back game, so expect fatigue to settle in. Booker and Len may be young, but both logged close to 40 minutes last night.
The Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic are still hanging on in the Eastern Conference playoff race, sitting 3.5 games out of the 8th seed with 22 games to go. The Suns have certainly been in a similar position before. Unfortunately for the Magic, they also have to worry about overtaking the 9th-seeded Wizards and 10-seeded Bulls, so their playoff odds are slim.
But for Orlando it's still all about the future. 25-year-old center Nikola Vucevic, now in his 4th season with Orlando, continues to post double-doubles on a nightly basis and scores close to 18 points per game.
Victor Oladipo unfortunately seems to have taken a small step back in his third season, but the 23-year-old is still averaging close to 15 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game while posting an above-average PER.
Evan Fournier was acquired by Orlando as part of the Afflalo trade, and that move has clearly paid off. Fournier is questionable to play tonight, but he has started 49 games this season and is averaging 14 points per game on 40 percent shooting from downtown.
Elfrid Payton, the 10th pick from last year's draft, continues to make small strides. Shooting is still by far his weak point, but he's taking more than twice as many threes in his sophomore season and has improved his three-point percentage from 26 percent to close to 38 percent. If he's open, he's not afraid to take it.
Their other lottery pick from that draft is Aaron Gordon, who recently attained widespread fame for his terrific performance in the dunk contest. Gordon recently entered the team's starting lineup, and he's averaging 12.2 points, 10 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals over his past 10 games. He is an extraordinarily versatile talent who had little trouble displacing the one-dimensional Frye in the starting rotation.
And nobody knew how the 21-year-old Croatian rookie Mario Hezonja would transition to the NBA, but he has carved out a small role in Orlando's rotation. He hasn't played very well for a 5th overall pick so far, but he is coming off the best performance of his young career, a 21-point scoring outburst against Chicago.
In many ways, Orlando's situation is similar to that of the Suns. They have a lot of prospects to develop, but none with surefire star potential. Their roster remains a large puzzle of accumulated assets.
They also look a little different after trading Tobias Harris for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova at the trade deadline. It's hard to believe that Jennings is still only 26, but sure enough, he has quickly gone from rookie sensation to being benched behind second-year player Elfrid Payton. Jennings and Ilyasova are both valuable role players nonetheless, and perhaps Orlando wants to start pushing for the playoffs.
|Phoenix Suns||Orlando Magic|
|G||Ronnie Price||Elfrid Payton|
|G||Devin Booker||Mario Hezonja|
|F||P.J. Tucker||Victor Oladipo|
|F||Alex Len||Aaron Gordon|
|C||Tyson Chandler||Nikola Vucevic|
No Bledsoe, Knight or Warren for the Suns. Fournier is questionable for the Magic. He has missed the last three games with Hezonja taking his place in the starting lineup temporarily.
The Magic are 4-4 since the All-Star break. Two of those wins are against the Sixers, but they also beat Dallas by six and Chicago by 13. Meanwhile, the Suns were already bad and now they have to perform on a back-to-back on the road. No chance.
The tank rolls on!
Magic win, 109-96.