When: 7:00 PM AZ Time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
After finally moving Eric Bledsoe to Milwaukee for Greg Monroe and protected picks yesterday (2018 1st that most likely conveys to 2020, 2nd rounder top 47 protected), the Suns are back in action against the Miami Heat.
Miami is looking to recover from their blowout loss in Golden State, while Phoenix will look to get Devin Booker going after teams have started to make T.J. Warren try to beat them instead. There needs to be a consistent offensive output from others to help avoid stretches that we saw against Brooklyn.
Led by former Suns point guard Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, Miami has been trying to defeat teams thus far using a slow-paced, half-court style which plays to both of their strengths. However, when going against fast-paced teams, much like Golden State, they have the possibility of getting the doors blown off them if you get up on them early and keep the pressure.
Outside of their inside-out duo of Dragic and Whiteside, Miami has surrounded them with a nucleus of quality role players but nothing much else. And with their slow start and Phoenix owning their 2018 1st rounder via the Dragic trade, #Top7ProtectedWatch will be something I watch closely if their struggles continue.
According to reports, Whiteside had to be spoken to by captains after his second-half benching against Golden State where he only played 90 seconds. So, things aren’t exactly going well right now but they have been without Dion Waiters, who celebrated the birth of his child back home in Miami. Waiters, who is the Heat’s most explosive scorer when he’s feeling it, will be back in the starting lineup for them against Phoenix.
Probable Heat starters: Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Okaro White, Hassan Whiteside
The Suns have been rolling with traditional lineups under Triano, completely scrapping positionless basketball Earl Watson was implementing. This has allowed for Alex Len, who has shown a new energy and determination after a disappointing summer trying to find a new deal on the open market, to post career numbers so far.
Over his last five, Len has averaged 7.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and nearly a steal + a block per game in only 21.2 minutes. That is some serious production, and when it’s stretched out per-36 it equates to a line of 12.9-14.9-1.5-1.5. Len has simplified his game and it’s paying massive dividends.
Another positive related to Len, when he gets fouled it seems to me like he’s taking that as a made basket. That’s a great sign compared to years past.
Outside of Len, who I believe was the standout performer against Brooklyn, we have seen a lot of flashes but not much consistency as far as production goes.
The likes of Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss have been in a slump over their last few games, especially Jackson who has looked still a little too out of control too often. This is obviously to be expected with the three youngest guys on the active roster, but hopefully, we see at least one or all three breakout of those said slumps tonight.
Who will step up as the third guy on offense? It’s getting apparent Booker and Warren need help, but is that help on this roster anyways? The help might not come until the summer or February’s trade deadline at the earliest so we could be in for a rough year as far as seeing teams swallow Booker up and try to have others beat them. Without legitimate threats outside of these two at the moment, it will be tough unless they both remain hot throughout.
If the Suns want to get back in the win column against Miami they will need to utilize Booker, Warren, and Len to their advantage (trust me, I did not expect to type Len as the third best option at this time either).
Will the Suns find a rhythm again or will the league’s youngest roster continue to show these growing pains?
Either way, there definitely needs to be some new X-and-O type discussion as far as getting Booker more involved on offense in a variety of ways.
Probable Suns starters: Mike James, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Tyson Chandler
Key matchup to watch for
For me, the main thing I will be watching for is how Jay Triano gets Booker going. He was able to early in the first quarter against Brooklyn, but from there they sent Caris LeVert and DeMarre Carroll to hound them the rest of the game. They dared T.J. Warren to beat them, and without a true starting caliber point guard at the moment, it will be tough for Phoenix to get out of scoring droughts consistently.
Expect Miami to send the likes of Richardson, Justise Winslow, and Tyler Johnson at Booker as well. Gregg Popovich gave a ton of head coaches the game plan on how to stop the new Suns offense under Triano: trap and pressure Booker on every possession to deny him from getting the ball at all.
With the current struggles of Mike James and Tyler Ulis, should we see more of point Booker? I think so because without Bledsoe teams will now just put all of their focus into the 21-year-old shooting guard. Also, this allows Booker to show off more of his playmaking to drive-and-dish, which we haven’t seen the past few contests due to many teams starting to figure out the new-look Suns.
Triano should allow this to happen, and hopefully, we see a healthy dose of it tonight against Miami and the rest of the season to help combat these issues.