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Preview: Reinvigorated Suns play host to Pacers

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The Suns look to have turned the corner over the past week. Will it continue against the Pacers, who are likely without Victor Oladipo?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host the Indiana Pacers

When: 7:00 PM AZ

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable starters

Suns - Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Trevor Ariza, T.J. Warren, Deandre Ayton

Pacers - Darren Collison, Tyreke Evans, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner

Suns

OffRtg - 103.2 (28th), DefRtg - 112.6 (28th), NetRtg = minus-9.4 (29th)

Even though Devin Booker technically has only started the past few games at point guard, Point Book was being deployed way more once Halloween came around versus San Antonio. It’s had great results since then with Booker averaging 25.8 points and 8.3 assists. The only other player averaging at least 25 and 8 is James Harden within that same timeframe. It also shows through within the advanced stats as well, with Booker’s net rating being plus-3.7 alongside T.J. Warren’s plus-3.5.

Booker being surrounded by the four best players on the Suns’ roster is the best way for the Suns to maintain competitiveness on top of actually producing wins. The Point Book starting lineup of Booker, Mikal Bridges, Trevor Ariza, Warren, and Deandre Ayton has produced a plus-17.5 net rating over 48 minutes together. Those results are spectacular, which include a sub-100 defensive rating of 96.4. For 5-man lineups that have played at least 45 minutes this season, the Suns’ new starting unit has the ninth-best net rating.

If the Suns are looking for x-factors in order to pull off this victory over Indiana, Mikal Bridges will need to impact the game on both sides of the floor. His defense has continued to be there, but his scoring hasn’t. I’m expecting a bounce back game from the Suns’ No. 10 overall pick. It all depends on if he catches fire from beyond the arc, where he has shot only 33.3 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers so far this season.

Another Sun to keep an eye on for here would be Jamal Crawford. The 19-year veteran has continued to be a spark recently off of Phoenix’s bench, providing a much needed scoring and playmaking balance alongside Booker when he’s carrying too much of the burden offensively. Even though I’ve been very critical of Crawford before, he’s produced when he hasn’t been on the floor with Isaiah Canaan. Head coach Igor Kokoskov should rid that 2-man lineup, but instead pair Crawford with one of the rookies like Elie Okobo or De’Anthony Melton. Going up against one of the league’s best defenses, Crawford might be another spark of scoring the Suns need to pull it off.

Overall, with the reinvigorated play out of this roster, this game should be tightly contested. And with one of the league’s best closers in Booker, the game could swing at any moment late.

Pacers

OffRtg - 108.4 (T15th), DefRtg - 103.9 (4th), NetRtg = 4.5 (6th)

The Pacers continue to survive without Oladipo as of late, recently blowing out Utah on the road last night, but it won’t last for long until he’s back. Oladipo, as you all saw in last year’s playoffs, is critical to their success. Credit to general manager Kevin Pritchard for getting it right on the Paul George trade. He saw Oladipo as a future star and rolled the dice while also obtaining a promising young big in Domantas Sabonis.

Indiana’s defense has helped buoy the Pacers’ subpar offense, and it’s been a Pacers mainstay for years dating back to when Frank Vogel first took over for Jim O’Brien. They are always sound on that end, and nowadays they are switching plenty while also getting up into you aggressively if you’re the primary ball handler.

Don’t be surprised if you see head coach Nate McMillan draw up a similar game plan to Brooklyn’s Kenny Atkinson versus Booker and Ayton earlier this season.

Indiana’s x-factor quite honestly is Sabonis. He’s outproduced Turner since his arrival, and with their clunky fit on the floor together it’s brought long-term question in Indiana as to whether those two can coexist before one is used in an eventual star trade. Sabonis is averaging 14.4 points and 9.7 rebounds off the bench while carrying a true shooting percentage of 71.5, which leads the league. He’s also a load to handle on the other end, always using verticality to his advantage.

Ayton’s matchup versus Sabonis will be more intriguing for more over Turner, it’s more of a one-on-one bout against strengths.

Indiana also has a duo of point guards who make sense in the immediate short-term as stopgap options. Darren Collison and or Cory Joseph could be made expendable at February’s trade deadline if Aaron Holiday continues to flourish in his limited minutes. Either one of those veterans would be an ideal fit on paper next to Booker while also help progressing the likes of Ayton, Bridges, and Josh Jackson forward.

Pritchard and Co. might feel like they’re on the outset looking in, so a trade for a win-now veteran like Ariza for Collison or Joseph might be the best win-win for both sides. A straight up Ariza for Collison swap would work salary-wise, while Indiana might have to toss in a contract like T.J. Leaf with Joseph to make it match.

As the Suns’ point guard situation seems to be getting dire by the day, keep a close eye on those two point guards from Indiana as we get closer to Ariza’s trade restriction being lifted. Ariza being moved is the best answer to allowing minutes for all three of the Suns’ lottery wings in Bridges, Warren, and Jackson.

Prediction

With the Pacers not having their star available, this is a winnable game for the Suns. No Oladipo means Tyreke Evans will guard Booker, which means he should continue to feast within his Point Book starting role. Booker will score 30-plus points once more on his way to 8 assists on good all-around efficiency.

On top of all that Booker goodness, Ayton might be able to get by against Turner, who is still not 100 percent just yet. Following his career-high outing in Detroit, Ayton doubles up with another 20 and 10 performance.

The Suns get back on the winning side as they look to upend the Clippers in Los Angeles tomorrow night.

Suns 113, Pacers 112