When: 7:30 PM PT
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Listen: 98.7 FM
Suns - Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Deandre Ayton
Mavericks - Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Dorian Finney-Smith, Luka Doncic, DeAndre Jordan
Note: If you want to look over an even bigger deep dive into the season opener, check out Bright Side of the Sun’s predictions piece.
With Harrison Barnes out of tonight’s game with a hamstring injury, Finney-Smith will be in his place, but now there’s even more pressure on the No. 3 overall pick Luka Doncic. The Slovenian prodigy shined in preseason averaging 15 points and 5 assists while displaying an improved perimeter stroke plus certified burst, in spurts, during transition opportunities. Doncic is going to be tough to handle, and if Trevor Ariza and Josh Jackson are able to lock him down, that goes a long way towards a victory.
Really, the biggest X-factor from Dallas’ point of view has to be Smith Jr. The explosive guard is a great complement to the savvy Doncic, especially with an open lane to the basket throwing down thunderous jams. If the Suns start Isaiah Canaan, which they shouldn’t by the way, Smith Jr. is going to attack him early and often. That’s why I’m in favor of having Booker and Jackson starting together in the Suns’ backcourt to counterattack Dallas’ backcourt advantages. Smith Jr. could have a monster game tonight if he’s matched up across from Canaan, so watch out for the No. 9 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Based off preseason action, Dallas likes to get out and run at a blistering pace. Whether it’s Doncic or Smith Jr. leading the break off a rebound, the basketball is constantly in motion. This benefits a rolling big like Jordan, who’s going to have a strong year being set up by Dallas’ young backcourt duo.
In order to walk out with a victory, the Suns need to have a great night of on-ball defense against the likes of Doncic, Smith Jr. and Jordan, which means a game signaling more importance for names such as Ariza, Jackson and Ayton.
Sure, Booker is making his triumphant return following hand surgery right before preseason began. Booker, who’s still going to be wearing tape around the area, will likely be used more as a secondary/decoy option to open even more room for Ayton. That is at least the smart play as Booker nurses back to full strength.
With that being said, expect a healthy dose of touches for Ayton on Wednesday night. Ayton averaged easily over 20 points and 10 rebounds when his preseason minutes were stretched out over usual run starters receive. And as mentioned earlier, it’s a gigantic test this early on for Ayton going up against one of the former members of the Lob City Clippers era led by Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jordan. After signing a 1-year deal with Dallas, Jordan definitely has lost some of his youthful burst of explosiveness, but he’s still a stalwart defensively.
I personally believe Ayton has to be the best player on the floor tonight for the Suns to win, and it’s not out of the question with how he performed in preseason. Far and away, he was the Suns’ best player without Booker out there. Expect plenty of that mid-range jumper from Ayton, and if it’s falling, it’s going to open up cutting lanes for Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren to capitalize off of.
Phoenix’s X-factor is Jackson, as he should be starting alongside Booker and Ayton. Playing him as an energizer off the bench to make room for Canaan would be head scratching to say the least. Starting Jackson would allow him to handle secondary playmaking duties, but also work an efficient game by cutting out mid-range jumpers and focusing solely on drives to the rim. Jackson is someone who could average close to a 15-5-5 stat line this season, and he’s going to need a game like that tonight in order for the Suns to walk out of Talking Stick Resort Arena as winners.
No surprise, but the Suns’ three main pieces to their young core are the three biggest keys to victory on opening night, with their superstar guard actually playing off of the first No. 1 pick in franchise history.
I’m expecting some fireworks tonight from both sides. I think both Ayton and Doncic put on a show, leading their teams in points scored and other various box score categories. With Booker likely deferring to Ayton early on as he’s getting acclimated from his hand injury, expect plenty of touches down low for the Bahamian big man. And if Ayton is able to muscle around a center like Jordan, that’s a great sign of what’s to come immediately from the former Arizona Wildcat.
Maybe I’m biased, but I think the ESPN west coast finale is going to be the game of the day with a razor-close finish, including strong outings from the young cores from Phoenix and Dallas.
However, in the end, Suns win.
Suns 114, Mavericks 109