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Game Preview: 4-4 Phoenix Suns at 3-4 New York Knicks

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Can the Suns rein in the Knicks' Unicorn?

NBA: New York Knicks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Game: Phoenix Suns @ New York Knicks

The Time: 4:30 pm (Phoenix time)

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM


Following a surprising come from behind victory against the Wizards in DC on the second night of a back-to-back, the Suns head back to the Big Apple to take on the NY Knicks who had a not so surprising loss to the visiting Houston Rockets on Wednesday. Both teams have had to deal with internal problems that were in some ways similar but dealt with in different ways and both are attempting to move on.

The Knicks have finally moved on from Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson and are now trying to build something around The Unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis and rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina (hopefully). The Suns have finally moved on from Eric Bledsoe and Earl Watson and are trying to build something around Devin Booker and a group of young talent. Unlike the Suns, the Knicks still have more older mid-level vets than young talent on their team and are closer to the beginning of their rebuild than the Suns.

If the Suns can get a win today it will be their first 3-game win streak since early March of last season (wins against Charlotte, OKC and Boston from March 2 through 5) and only the third 3-game win streak since the beginning of the 2015-16 season. The last time the Suns put together a win streak of over 3 games was during the 2014-15 season when they won four straight in March of 2015.

A win will also give them an above .500 record for the first time since they were 7-6 on November 22, 2015.

The Knicks

The Knicks' offense starts and ends with Porzingis who is averaging 27.9 ppg, with the other most notable contributions coming from new acquisitions Tim Hardaway Jr (15.6 ppg) and Enes Kanter (13.9 ppg). Of the three, Hardaway has so far tended to be the wild card of the bunch. In their 110-89 loss to the Celtics, he scored 6 points while shooting .182 from the field (0-5 from three) but five days later he scored 34 points (.579 FG% & .500 3P%) in a 114-95 win over the Cavaliers. Porzingis had something of an off night against the Rockets on Wednesday scoring only 19 points on 7-18 shooting (.389 FG%) and 0-3 on three point attempts but he has scored 30 or more points in five of New York's seven games this season.

At this time, Porzingis is listed as day-to-day and is questionable for the game due to an illness which kept him out of Thursday's team practice.

If he plays, expect the Knicks to feed the ball to Porzingis frequently... and hope that Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender can at least slow him down without getting into too much foul trouble.

If Porzingis doesn't play, expect to see a good bit of former Sun-for-a-season-but-paid-for-many-more Michael Beasley on the court.

Likely Starting Lineup

PG - Jarrett Jack

SG - Courtney Lee

SF - Tim Hardaway Jr

PF - Kristaps Porzingis

C - Enes Kanter

Team Leaders

Points: Kristaps Porzingis (27.9)

Rebounds: Enes Kanter (9.9)

Assists: Jarrett Jack (5.6)

The Suns

While the Suns' offense mostly depends on Devin Booker, on any given night someone else seems to step up their game. T.J. Warren had his 40-10 double-double against the Wiz, Mike James gave us 24 points, 4 steals and a block against the Nets and Alex Len's 13 point/12 rebound game against the Jazz are the best examples but everyone on this team finds a way to contribute - offensively, defensively or both - in every game now. While we all want to see Booker scoring 30+ points every night, he doesn't need to do that for this team to have a chance to win games as long as the rest of the team continues to play at the level they are playing at now.

Before the Wizards game I would expect that the Knicks would have focused their defensive efforts on making life difficult for Devin Booker today but they may have gotten the hint that tactic might not work. Expect them to try it anyway until someone else steps up and makes them pay for it.

Likely Starting Lineup

PG - Mike James

SG - Devin Booker

SF - T.J. Warren

PF - Marquese Chriss

C - Tyson Chandler

Team Leaders

Points: Devin Booker (22.1)

Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (8.9)

Assists: Devin Booker (4.4)

Injury Report

Suns: The usual suspects (ie - no one out that you didn't already expect to be out).

Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis - Day-to-day (illness), Ron Baker - Day-to-day (ankle)

Key Matchup

Kristaps Porzingis (if he plays) vs Dragan Bender

Okay, this probably isn't going to be a key matchup in the sense that it will determine which team wins but who doesn't want to see these two face off? Porzingis starts and Bender doesn't but as the game goes on they will wind up on the court together and I believe it will at least be the most interesting matchup to watch.

Summary

As a team, the Knicks are averaging 102.0 ppg (23rd in the NBA) while giving up 105.1 ppg. Their net offensive/defensive rating (-5.2) puts them at 24th in the association. These stats aren't overly impressive but neither are the Suns'. Although the Suns are 9th in points per game (107.4), they are giving up 116.6 which is 29th. Their net offensive/defensive rating (-6.6) puts them at 26th. But after "the changes", the Suns' numbers have risen dramatically. Their net offensive/defensive rating (minus the first 3 games) is +5.8 which would put them at 8th if the pre-Triano games were stricken from the record books.

If Porzingis is healthy enough to play, I would think that this game might be a close one but still a very winnable game for the Suns. But if The Unicorn remains in the stable instead of on the court, the Suns have no excuse to not win this one.