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Suns-Nets Preview: Battle of the Supposed Cellar Dwellers

Phoenix Suns take on the Surprisingly Competitive Brooklyn Nets

Devin Booker and D’Angelo Russel at The 2017 ESPYS
Devin Booker and D’Angelo Russel at The 2017 ESPYS
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns (2-4) at Brooklyn Nets (3-4)

Time: 4:30 pm (Phoenix time)

TV: Fox Sports AZ+

Radio: 98.7 FM

When making the schedules before the season, I’m certain NBA officials were under the impression that the first game of the Halloween night slate should be between too horrifyingly bad teams.

This time, the trick was on them.

Brooklyn has been surprisingly competitive so far this season, with impressive wins against the Cavaliers and the Eastern Conference leaders, the Orlando Magic.

Meanwhile, your Phoenix Suns have looked like an entirely new team since the front office fired coach Earl Watson. Under Interim Coach Jay Triano, the team has utilized a simplified, but effective offense, and while the defense has not produced magnificently better results, the effort is tremendously better.

Brooklyn Nets

Despite Jeremy Lin’s potentially season-ending injury, the Nets have been hot early in the season. Behind the strong play of D’Angelo Russell, the team has averaged the third most points per game in the NBA at nearly 115. The team is also a relatively strong rebounding team behind Timofey Mozgov, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Trevor Booker.

Offensively, this team hums along. Much like the Suns, the sets are not overly complex. If it has a weakness, it is that, without Lin this team really does not have a consistent secondary scorer, particularly at the guard position. In fact, the two-guard position has largely been played by committee, with Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe all getting time. Not one of them, however, has produced consistently, and this could be a mismatch the Suns could take advantage of given their position of strength on the court is behind Devin Booker.

On the defensive end, the Nets just may be a worse team than the Suns. Other than Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, there are not many versatile defenders on the team. DeMarre Carroll may have regained some of his mojo this season, but the jury is still out to some extent.

Phoenix Suns

Despite a somewhat disheartening loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Suns will be playing with momentum against one of the cellar-dwellers of the East.

Since the coaching change, the offense has markedly improved in terms of shooting efficiency. In the three games since the change, the team is shooting 46.5% from the field and 33.3% from behind the arc, in addition to 81.8% from the line. Under Watson, those numbers were 39.7/33.8/71.3.

The mini-revival of Devin Booker has helped this tremendously. Booker struggled in his first three games this season, averaging 17 points on just 40% shooting from the field, including 26.7% from beyond the arc. Since then, he has averaged 24 points on 48% shooting from the field and 44.4% from the arc.

The defense is much improved as well. After allowing 128.7 points per game over the first three games on 51.5% shooting, over the last three the Suns have given up just 105.7 on 43.1%. Some of that can be accounted for by the truly abysmal offensive showing of the Utah Jazz, but not all of it. There is a notable improvement in defensive energy since the coaching change.

Keys to the Game

For the Suns, the keys to this game are similar to their keys every game: limit turnovers and win the rebounding game.

Turnovers have been a killer for the team all season, and the team is actually turning the ball over more since Eric Bledsoe was benched, unsurprisingly. The team is the third worst in the NBA in turnovers per game, a number that will have to improve if the team wants to control games down the stretch and avoid outcomes like the Portland loss.

Fortunately, the Nets are also a team that struggles to control the ball.

Rebounding has also been a problem. At -3.3, the Suns have one of the worst rebounding margins in the NBA. Controlling the boards will be particularly important against the Nets, who are a top-5 offensive rebounding team.

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