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Preview: Suns and Knicks enter matchup tumbling down standings

Since the new year began, both Phoenix and New York have struggled to find answers.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at New York Knicks Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns vs. New York Knicks

When: 7:00 PM AZ Time

Where: Here. Phoenix. At the Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM

A pair of teams struggling to win games get to fight for a rare W in Phoenix on Friday night.


The Knicks

After starting a promising 17-14, the Knicks have stumbled to lose 14 of their last 18 games, putting them at 21-28 on the season.

In a perfect example of breaking glass in case of emergency, coach Jeff Hornacek freed Michael Beasley and has enjoyed watching SuperCool put up 16.6 points (with 54% three pointing shooting!), 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 24 minutes per game. To put this in perspective, Beasley would easily be the 3rd most prolific player in a Phoenix Suns lineup with those numbers behind Book and Buckets.

Despite the huge losing streak, Hornacek is sticking to his veteran guns - playing Jarret Jack 28 minutes per night versus rookie Frank Ntilikina’s 18, while last year’s All-Rookie first team forward Willy Hernangomez barely plays.

The Knicks don’t have much youth besides those two and 23-year old unicorn Kristaps Porzingis who is pulling himself out of a big slump lately with almost 23 points (on 44% 3P shooting), 7 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.6 blocks per game.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Enes Kanter fill out the rest of the primary rotation.

Let’s see if they can stay in playoff contention throughout the season.

The Suns

If you thought Devin Booker would make it his mission to embarrass the All-Star voters by dominating in Indiana on Wednesday night, you were mistaken along with the rest of us.

Instead, Booker is coming off his worst consecutive road games in a long time while he watches most of the rest of his team struggle around him.

T.J. Warren has not stepped up his game (and might even miss Friday’s Knicks game with a sore knee).

And, others seem to be regressing. Dragan Bender has not taken the league by storm with his newfound big minutes and starting role (6.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.6 blocks in 27 minutes a night). He appears to simply prefer sprinkling a little catch-and-shoot action among his swing passes to keep the ball moving. He’s a disaster inside the three point line, making just 40% of his two point shots from any distance.

Sophomore Tyler Ulis has been a continued disappointment in his starting role as well (5.6 points, 4.5 assists in 24 minutes last 10 games) while joining backup Isaiah Canaan (8.9 points, 3.7 assists in 24 minutes last 10 games) as the team’s other sub-40% shooters next to Bender.

Hopefully, Marquese Chriss will come back soon to add another live body to the mix and that Alex Len will return from a sore ankle soon. But it might not be in time for tonight’s game. There is talk that Chriss could get a couple of “rehab” games with the NAZ Suns to get back in game shape before returning to the Suns lineup.

Josh Jackson has been more fun to watch lately, as he improves on a month to month basis and now seems to know more of what to do on the court when he’s out there. Jackson’s recent run of eight games: 14.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists are an improvement, as are his 48% FG and 36% 3P shooting numbers.

Troy Daniels is fun as a sharp-shooter off the bench, recently pouring in threes from all over the court.

Coaches

It will be nice to see Jeff Hornacek back on the sideline at Talking Stick Resort Arena, but will also be a reminder that the Suns are probably better off with Jay Triano at this point.

While Hornacek continues his frustrating reputation of relying too heavily on veterans during a dismal losing streak, Triano at least shows a consistent commitment to playing the kids no matter what happens. Bender (30+ minutes a night since Chriss injury, 21 per night before that), Ulis (24), Marquese Chriss (27 before injury) and Josh Jackson (23) all have big roles in the same rotation while grizzled veterans rotate games on and off the DNP list.

Triano rides the kids to a recent 3-8 record, while Hornacek stubbornly plays his vets during a 4-14 stretch.

Given the Suns’ current state of affairs, Triano’s approach is the right approach. Hornacek always had the reputation here in Phoenix of favoring the veterans no matter how bad it got. You can’t say the same of Jay.

Prediction

I’m terrible at these things. I’d like to think the Suns will come out strong after a pair of bad outings on the road this week, but I never know with this team.

The Suns are suffering from some injuries, which isn’t helping the kids remain consistent. It’s possible T.J. Warren, Alex Len and Marquese Chriss will all be out. If they are all out, it will be tough for the Suns to win against any team.

Still... okay fine... I’ll say Devin Booker goes off for 40 and the Suns pull out a last-second thrilling win over the unicorn’s Knicks.