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Suns-Mavericks opening night predictions — score, storylines, Ayton, Doncic, Booker

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With the very likely return of Devin Booker, we get to focus on Deandre Ayton vs. Luka Doncic to kick off the 2018-19 season

The Phoenix Suns have lost their last three season openers, all blowouts, all at home at Talking Stick Resort Arena, by an average of 27 points.

Meanwhile the Dallas Mavericks have started the last two seasons with at least four consecutive losses, including game one on the road.

But someone has to win right?

This game is on ESPN, one of the Suns’ only two guaranteed nationally covered games on the season (not including NBATV), and features a pair of players widely projected as the top two talents in the 2018 NBA Draft: Deandre Ayton of the Suns and Luka Doncic of the Mavericks.

Let’s see what the Bright Side staff thinks will happen on Wednesday night!


Who wins the game, and by how much?

Dave King: I think the Suns win the game. They lead for most of it too, then barely close it out in the fourth when the Mavericks go on a run. I say it’s Suns by 7.

Brendon Kleen: I think the Mavericks win. Momentum is trending in opposite directions for these two squads, and while I’m excited for the matchup, I think the Mavericks come out on top, by about 6 points.

Paul Bisceglia (Fanning the Flames): Dallas by 8.

Evan Sidery: Unlike recent years, I see the Suns winning this game on the national stage in primetime. Devin Booker will probably feed off Deandre Ayton as a secondary option as he nurses himself back to full health, while Josh Jackson will be the x-factor. If they start Booker and Jackson in the backcourt, it should be a fun duo resulting in a Suns win.

Tim Tompkins (Solar Panel): Vegas has the Mavs winning this by 1.5, but I think the Suns pull out the victory here if Devin Booker plays. Also worth mentioning Harrison Barnes will not play due to injury, and the Mavs aren’t deep by any means on the wings.

Greg Esposito (here and Solar Panel): Suns win in a thriller by one as Deandre Ayton blocks Luka Doncic on the final play of the game. NBA Twitter exploded and the gif is played for the rest of the season and beyond.

Jim Coughenour: Mavericks. The Suns still seem shaky on the new sets from coach Igor and didn’t get any burn with Booker during the preseason. I think the Mavs get up by double digits during the game, but the Suns come back to at least make it close. Let’s say Mavs 108-103.

Justin Niedzeliak (Fanning the Flames): Suns win, 107-101


What’s the ‘story’ of the game?

Dave: Of course the main talking point is Luka vs. Deandre. But that won’t be the STORY of the game. The STORY of the game will be whether the Suns can avoid a blowout loss. They lost the last three openers by an AVERAGE of 27 points!!!!! All in Phoenix. All in embarrassing shameful fashion. This cannot happen again.

Brendon: The story of the game will be how Deandre Ayton fares against De’Andre Jordan after a tremendous preseason. We knew this the minute the NBA announced Mavs-Suns on ESPN.

Justin: Devin Booker shows that the hand injury is behind him by posting 31 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists. Even more impressive is the immediate chemistry he shows with Deandre Ayton in the pick and roll game, which results in three highlight-worthy ally oops. Is this an oddly specific prediction? Sure. But, hope springs eternal with the new NBA season.

Evan: Changing things up compared to the previous answers, I’m going to go with the Suns’ biggest hole on their roster: point guard. If it’s not resolved by Wednesday — no, Jamal Crawford isn’t the answer here — how will they fare against the likes of Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic? Booker and Jackson will play the majority of playmaker minutes, but Isaiah Canaan / Shaquille Harrison and De’Anthony Melton / Elie Okobo will have to make their minutes worthwhile.

Tim: Ayton vs Doncic. Suns Twitter is going to go nuts if Ayton doesn’t come strong for this one.

Greg: If it’s anything other than Ayton v. Doncic I’ll be completely shocked. All we heard about at draft time was about these two guys. ESPN will play that up more than ABC plays up cliff hangers on a Shonda Rhymes drama. The dark horse that could overthrow it is if Devin Booker comes back and drops 40+ which is highly unlikely.

Jim: I’m going with Doncic vs. Ayton AND the Suns point guard situation. Not only will Luka be compared to DeAndre as they are the preseason darlings for rookie of the year, but in his first game, I’m guessing there’s a good chance that Doncic shows he is a better facilitator than anyone on the Suns. DeAndre will go for 20/10.

Paul: Ayton vs. Doncic, obviously. Deandre Jordan is the stiffest competition that Ayton has experienced thus far, and though I think Ayton will hold his own, I think his production will be average. Doncic will probably fill the stat sheet up, and hipster twitter will be on fire over some highlight of a bounce pass or a drive and kick.


Who has the most rebounds: De’Andre Jordan or Deandre Ayton?

Dave: They are both going to exceed 15. Jordan has averaged 14 rebounds per game over the last six seasons and against these cold-shooting Suns he’s likely to have season-high chances. On the other side, Ayton is the ONLY guy on the Suns who appears capable of rebounding the ball. With Ryan Anderson and T.J. Warren likely spending the most time at power forward, it’s Ayton or no one.

Greg: It’s a push at 11 boards a piece.

Brendon: I think it will be Ayton, if only because I think Dallas has more of a committee at center. Ayton will likely play at least 30 minutes and rebound like crazy, while Jordan will cede time to guys like Dwight Powell and Salah Mejri.

Paul: Jordan – Ayton has so much more responsibility on offense than Jordan, that he can focus more on the defensive end.

Tim: Jordan. That’s all he can really do well at this point and he’s going to feel pressure with his new team on opening night going against the number one pick.

Evan: I’m going to go with Ayton. With Ryan Anderson not being someone who pushes the pace in transition with rebounds, which Doncic will do at the 4, Ayton should gobble up between 10-15 rebounds with no problem. Ayton’s most translatable skill before he entered the NBA will have him already in the top five of rebounding leaderboards this season, in my opinion.

Justin: Jordan, but not by much. I’ll say 14 for Jordan and 13 for Ayton. Nothing for the rookie to hang his head about considering he’s matched up with a guy who averaged 15.2 rebounds per game last season.

Jim: I’m going with De’Andre. I’ll take Jordan in this case. He averaged 15.2 rebounds per game last season and the Suns should give him plenty of opportunities.


Who has the most points+assists+rebounds: Devin Booker or Luka Doncic?

Tim: Luka, but that’s only because Book’s shooting hand hasn’t gotten enough run.

Brendon: Dave just wants me to dig myself deeper into this hole. Booker is in for some adjustment. We’ve seen how difficult it’s been for the younger guys to get into rhythm in this offense, and while Booker will have the ball in his hands and control over the game more than anyone else, figuring out the spacing and flow of Igor Kokoskov’s system is tough. He may not be his usual self on Wednesday. So for me, it’s Doncic. He’s been awesome this preseason.

Justin: Well, my Booker prediction above gives him a total of 44. Luka isn’t going to top that.

Paul: This one is tricky. If Booker was fully healthy, I think this would be a runaway by Book. I expect him to at least repeat his averages from last year. I think Doncic will average equivalent assists and rebounds to Booker, but Booker will far exceed him in points. In this game though, if Booker is tentative due to the hand, I could see Doncic coming away with the victory here.

Dave: With the tape on his fingers, the question is whether Booker will need 20 shots to get his 20 points. Make no mistake, the lowest scoring team in the preseason (97 PPG) will need every point they can squeeze out of their max player. However, they also need Booker’s playmaking, and with the tape affecting his shot, I expect Booker will pass a lot more than he otherwise would. So I expect something like 18 points on 5-18 shooting, 10 assists and 4 rebounds. Doncic has been consistent in the preseason with 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 30 minutes a night. Assuming a first-game bounce, let’s pump that up to 18 points, 6 assists and 7 rebounds. That’s 32 to 31, Booker. :)

Greg: This is the toughest question of all. It really is, is an injured Devin Booker with no experience in a new offense better than Luka Doncic. Wait, this isn’t that tough of a quandary after all. It’s obviously Booker. Without a true point guard everything is going to hinge on him regardless of injury. Tape two fingers together or his arm behind his back and he’s going to be the leader. (If he’s the “savior” of the franchise we have to say that, right?)

Evan: With Booker I’m guessing playing more off of Ayton initially, I will go with Doncic just off sheer volume. Unless Booker snatches rebounds away from Ayton to get things going at a fast pace, Doncic will have more of those. Assists I also see more going to Doncic. Points, however, is where Booker will have the edge. Remember, this is his first game back from surgery.

Jim: I think Booker will end up with a higher cumulative total, but I think Luka will have more assists than rebounds. Booker will be at least +10 on points.


Who has more: Ayton blocks or Josh Jackson assists?

Evan: Definitely Josh Jackson in the assist category. He averaged 5 assists in preseason, and that could be continuing through the regular season. Unless they trade for a point guard, Jackson is their most gifted playmaker. Igor Kokoskov wants his team to put defenses in the blender, and Jackson’s blend of speed and athleticism is a huge component to it.

Dave: I don’t know what to expect from Josh Jackson. I do think Ayton tallies 3-4 blocks in his first game. The question is Jackson. How many minutes will he play? I’d expect Booker and Ariza to play 80% of the competitive minutes in the opener (meaning, non-blowout either direction). And Jackson’s minutes won’t often be with Ayton any more. So, I’d guess Ayton beats out Jackson on this.

Tim: Jackson assists. He’ll also have more turnovers than Ayton has blocks.

Greg: Josh Jackson’s one positive in the preseason was his ability to pass. He’ll have two or three lobs to Ayton alone that should put him in the driver’s seat in this matchup.

Brendon: Jackson’s playmaking is one of the only parts of his game I’m buying right now, and as Booker gets into rhythm, he’ll have a lot of responsibility on offense. Jackson could have as many as 7 or 8 assists.

Jim: Let’s go with Jackson at four assists and Ayton with two blocks. Of course there’s a good chance that Jackson will have more turnovers than either of those numbers.

Paul: Jackson assists. He is going to put up numbers across the stat sheet. He just might not be efficient about it. I expect he will have as many lobs to Ayton as Ayton has blocks, and he will probably get at last one other assist.

Justin: Jackson. While Jackson shot poorly during the preseason, he averaged 5 assists per game - showing the ability to facilitate that played a big part in making him a top prospect going into the 2017 NBA Draft. I expect that to carry over into the regular season. Jackson will finish the game with 5 assists and Ayton will finish with 3 blocks.


Who is each team’s leading scorer NOT named Ayton, Booker, Smith Jr. or Doncic?

Justin: For the Suns, T.J. Warren. He still can’t hit the three with any consistency, and probably never will, but there’s no denying that he has a knack for scoring. With the new guys on the team, he won’t average 19.6 points per game like he did last year, but he’s still going to get his. As for the Mavs, after Smith Jr. and Doncic, the team does not really have a scorer outside of Harrison Barnes. With Barnes out, I see it as a toss up between Wesley Matthews, De’Andre Jordan, and the lesser known of their big German guys, Maximilian Kleber. My gut says Matthews, but I’ll go with Maximilian Kleber (if anything, just so that I could type his name one more time).

Tim: Suns- T.J. Warren. Mavs- Wesley Matthews.

Paul: Suns – I’m going to go with Crawford. He is going to come out gunning.

Dave: I’ll say Trevor Ariza. I expect Ariza will start and play almost all the competitive minutes in this game. He was 3rd in net rating for the Suns this preseason, 3rd in PER, 2nd in scoring all while being way down in usage rate. He’s going to come out hard on opening night.

Brendon: For the Suns, I’ve got Ryan Anderson. He’s going to get a lot of open looks this year, and he rounded into form as the preseason progressed. The Mavericks answer is easy. Harrison Barnes was this team’s leading scorer last year by a large margin. Even if we were including Doncic and Smith, my bet would be Barnes for Game One.

Greg: I’m going with T.J. Warren if he’s still on the roster by opening night. He showed he hasn’t lost his touch even coming off the bench. His shooting percentage in the preseason was spectacular and, early on this season, his style will benefit from an offense trying to find its way through a new offense. By default for Dallas I’m going with DeAndre Jordan. Anticipating a lot of misses in this game from both teams and the Dea(A)dres will benefit from it by doing the dirty work.

Evan: For the Suns, I’ll say Josh Jackson. With Booker and Ayton together in the lineup, attention will be taken away allowing Jackson ample driving lanes. He has to play smart offensively (no fadeaway mid-range jumpers), but he should flow better once their two main cogs are back at full strength. As far as Dallas, I’ll take a random stretch big like Dwight Powell. Phoenix struggled defending the arc in preseason, and the Mavericks could take advantage.

Jim: I’ll go with Dwight Powell for the Mavericks, although with Barnes out it will be scoring by committee and they are likely to have six guys in double figures at around 10-13 points each. Warren averaged about 20 a game for the Suns last season so he’s the obvious choice.


Any final words on the Suns opener?

Dave: They’ve just GOT to avoid getting blown out. Please please basketball gods, smile on Suns fans.

Brendon: I’m so ready for basketball.

Greg: Honestly, I’m more uncomfortable with the idea of rushing Booker back for the opener than George Constanza getting out of a cold pool. If that hand isn’t 100% the risk of potentially doing more damage or worse, long term damage, is terrifying. Fully trust the Suns medical team but the cynic in me can’t help but let my mind wander to that dark dark place.

Justin: After years of tanking, the Suns have a young core that is oozing with potential. Because of that, I am more excited for the start of this season than I have been for the start of any season in a long time. If that young core develops and reaches their potential, then the future will be bright for the Suns. If they don’t, well.... I think we all know how that story ends. Regardless, this opener is the first small step towards the Suns hopefully becoming relevant again in the NBA.

Evan: Nice play by the NBA’s schedule makers for having Phoenix and Dallas square off with a nationally televised audience. After both Ayton and Doncic shined in preseason, it’s definitely one of the matchups many are looking forward to watching.

Tim: Can we please just not lose by 40 this time?

Jim: If the Suns get blown out I’m going to be pissed.

Paul: I’m just happy real basketball is back. The question now is how long will it be before I just want it to be over.


How about you, Suns fans?

How do you answer each of these questions?