What: Phoenix Suns host Philadelphia 76ers
When: 6:00 pm AZ time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
On New Year's Eve, this version of the Phoenix Suns has a chance to make a nice note of their own. If they win tonight against Philadelphia, this will be the first time since the beginning of the 2014-2015 season to have this successful of a stretch.
The last time these two teams met, though, Devin Booker started off cold but ended up finishing with 46 points while being draped by the Sixers’ guards all evening. In the end, Booker’s takeover led to Phoenix’s biggest margin of victory since Jay Triano took over as the interim head coach on Oct. 23.
76ers - Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid
Suns - Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Tyson Chandler
OffRtg = 104.5 (17th), DefRtg = 103.2 (7th) , NetRtg = 1.3 (11th)
For Philadelphia, when they obtained Simmons, Embiid, and even Markelle Fultz, #TheProcess paid off. Sam Hinkie laid down the tanking blueprint and was run out of office because of it. All three have the chance of being generational talents at their positions, and that’s exactly what you strive for if your franchise was stuck in the rutter as Philadelphia was.
Simmons and Embiid have yet to reach their primes and yet both are destined for their first All-Star appearances already, with 2016’s No. 1 pick only making his pro debut this season.
In the case of team construction, Philadelphia has that dynamic wing-big combo that’s desperately needed in today’s NBA to compete consistently for titles down the line. For the Suns, they have the wing in Booker, but that big has yet to show up yet. That is what makes the prospect of placing a top-flight big man prospect from the 2018 draft class so tantalizing in some team building scenarios.
This season, the Sixers are starting to take their ascension up the NBA hierarchy, but as a young team with as high of expectations as theirs, they have struggled thus far. Right now, they only sit one spot above Phoenix in the lottery standings.
When Fultz makes his return in January from a shoulder injury, Philadelphia will be an intriguing team to follow as Hinkie’s dream continues its steps toward possible championship games years down the line.
Note: Advanced Stats are from Oct. 23 on, when Triano took over as head coach of the Suns
OffRtg = 103.6 (21st), DefRtg = 107.6 (23rd), NetRtg = -4.0 (26th)
It’s hard to deny the steps this team has taken under Triano, especially some individuals like Alex Len, Dragan Bender, and now Chriss. Over his last two games, he eclipsed the number of rebounds he had over his previous six. And postgame, Chriss spoke about how he’s starting to translate his athletic gifts and energy into rebounding and defense.
Chriss is responding to Triano’s coaching, as is the entire roster. The team is buying into a more defensive oriented approach since Earl Watson was fired, and the numbers on that end are promising. When Triano was brought on into the head role, he consistently told us local media about how consistent energy would be the deciding factor in rotations. That’s starting to wear onto everyone in wanting to stay on the floor more with improvement.
Again, that’s big-time progress.
Over the past 10 games, the Suns are a top-half team in defensive rating. At 105.2, they have a nearly two-point lead between them and 16th. They are not going against worldbeating teams atop the standings, that’s for sure, but to ignore those signs of improvement would be hard to ignore.
On yesterday’s episode of Locked On Suns, I told my co-host, Brendon Kleen, that I believe Phoenix will need a huge game from Booker to pull this one out. Around 35-40 points and an all-around performance, which could be explored with more spacing inserting Troy Daniels alongside him more often today, could help in that prediction.
Also, look for Warren to try to get going early as well because the Suns are 8-0 when he’s able to supply Booker or carry the offense with 25-plus points. This number alone shows that when the Suns have two consistent scoring options that have hot hands, they are really hard to defeat when they are humming on both ends.
Will the Suns win their third straight game, sixth of last eight? I’m going to say yes if the Booker-Warren duo is able to get inside consistently against this Sixers group.
Suns 102, 76ers 99