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Preview: Struggling Suns begin quick three-game road trip against Minnesota

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After falling at home against Toronto, the Suns start up a three-game road trip in chilly Minneapolis.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns visit Minnesota Timberwolves

When: 6:00 PM AZ Time

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


We are now almost halfway through Devin Booker’s stint on the injury report with his strained left adductor muscle he suffered earlier this month at Toronto late in the fourth quarter.

So far to nobody's surprise, this version of the Phoenix Suns have struggled mightily without their 21-year-old franchise star. They have yet to tally a win without him and beginning their three-game road trip up in Minnesota, there’s a shot they could go 0-for this entire road trip.

After Minnesota tonight, Phoenix then travels to Dallas and Los Angeles to face the Clippers.

Without further ado, lets preview these Minnesota Timberwolves led by an almost entirely new roster compared to last season.

Probable Timberwolves starters: Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Karl-Anthony Towns

Probable Suns starters: Tyler Ulis, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Tyson Chandler

Minnesota Timberwolves

(Advanced stats since interim head coach Jay Triano took over the Suns on 10/23/17: OffRtg = 109.5 {5th}, DefRtg = 107.8 {23rd}, NetRtg = 1.8 {11th})

Alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota’s head coach / general manager Tom Thibodeau went ahead and constructed a playoff-ready roster around them.

Not only did Minnesota acquire Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the rights to Lauri Markkanen but they also signed Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, and Jamal Crawford, to name a few, in free agency.

Towns and Wiggins are still in their infancies of their NBA careers, but Thibodeau has done a splendid job building around their two former No. 1 picks.

However, surprisingly, the defense for this team hasn’t clicked yet led by their two top prospects. Towns and Wiggins continue to be net-negatives on that end, and you have to wonder when it will ever flip the other way.

When it comes to their offensive firepower, I have little doubts worrying about them with their three dynamic scorers in Towns, Wiggins, and Butler.

The trade for Butler has put this team in position to be in the playoffs for the first time in a decade, but Thibodeau and Co. will need to figure out their defensive woes or it will be a quick exit come April.

Phoenix Suns

(OffRtg = 103.7 {19th}, DefRtg = 108.4 {27th}, NetRtg = -4.8 {24th})

Throughout their stint so far without Booker, the offense has kept them in games until late but the obvious growing pains of Jackson, Chriss, and Bender will be something to monitor until he’s scheduled to return either December 26 or December 29.

Jackson’s first four games starting in place of Booker have gone about as ugly as you could expect them to, but as I have mentioned plenty, Jackson’s development could be slower than we all thought due to his lack of strength and speed adjustment compared to other rookie wings.

Check out these numbers:

7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 4.3 fouls and 2 turnovers on 26-17-67 shooting splits

Yikes, but there’s nowhere to go up for Phoenix’s No. 4 pick. During the pre-draft process, I was all-in on Jackson and you should, too.

However, bouncing off of Jackson real quick — who really should be the top prospect every Suns fan watches until Booker returns — Warren has thrived compared to him.

In Booker’s absence, Warren has averaged 18 points per game, and when stretched out since November 1, he has averaged nearly 20 each contest. With a disappointing start related to most of their young guns, Warren’s resurgence and comfort taking on more usage on a nightly basis is a great development to see in his fourth season.

These two players are my x-factors if Phoenix wants to pull off the upset. Not only will Warren need to be his usual self and drop over 20, but I want to see Jackson return to his alpha form late in the preseason. When both Booker and Warren sat out against Portland, Jackson took over and finished with 22 points including many highlight defensive plays.

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Jackson put up a performance like that but for many Suns fans and their front office itself they need to start seeing those flashes once again with a lot more frequency here soon.

Prediction

So far this season, Phoenix and Minnesota have split their series 1-1, but heading back up to Minneapolis this time, I see a team once again without Booker.

Last time without Booker up in Minnesota last month due to his lingering toe injury, the Wolves cruised to a win late. I sense a similar outcome incoming Saturday night.

Timberwolves 106, Suns 99