The Phoenix Suns have lost three in a row now and hope to turn things around at home tonight against the Orlando Magic, another team looking to bounce back after losing four of their last 5 games. Suns coach Igor Kokoskov knows that Orlando’s losing record means nothing.
“They were in all these games,” Kokoskov said. “They had a chance to beat Golden State, they had a chance to beat Portland, so very good team. Very well coached, and we know what kind of challenge we have tonight.”
Magic coach Steve Clifford addressed the areas his team needs to put more emphasis on moving forward.
“I was disappointed in the defense and the rebounding, but it’s not like we didn’t compete well,” Clifford said. “We played real hard, we had good intensity. You don’t score 112 points against that team if you’re not ready to play. When you lack energy, your offense is going to be as bad as your defense. So to me the competing part is good, but we just got to make sure we’re channeled in on everything.”
For Phoenix, it’s all about the physicality and also staying energized through all four quarters even when there are back-to-backs. Kokoskov wants to see more attacking on the offensive glass as well.
“Offensive rebounds hurt us,” Kokoskov said. “We have to be more precise and disciplined when it comes to offense.”
Deandre Ayton will face dominant big man Nikola Vucevic and fellow rookie Mohamed Bamba, a guy he has a played against since high school.
“Obviously we’re going to go at it a lot, try to kill him on the court as always, and he’s trying to do the same to me,” Ayton said. “It’s a certain respect that’s there off the court with him and I and we respect each others game and I just love playing against him.”
Rookies Deandre Ayton and Mo Bamba bring out the best in each other. Ayton talks about the respect they have for one another off the court, a respect that has been built since high school. #suns #magic @BrightSideSun @DeandreAyton pic.twitter.com/CZxOOZ8MxN— Ashley Nevel (@AshleyNevel) November 30, 2018
Bamba took the respect to a whole different level when he put a picture of Ayton on the background of his phone shaking Adam Silver’s hand on draft night. He used it as motivation.
“I remember one time we were playing video games in rookie transition, playing Fortnite and I think he got a notification and I seen it and I was like, ‘yo is that me?’ I was like, ‘why am I on your lock screen yo?’ Stop this madness!,” Ayton said with a huge smile on his face.
Although they’re both centers, Ayton and Bamba have very different games. Ayton has established himself as more of a traditional big while Bamba has eased himself into the more evolved big man who shoots from long range.
“Well yeah his three ball is insane now,” Ayton said of Bamba’s three-point shot. “He’s shooting that shot with a lot of confidence. He knows he can make it. I seen him put in a lot of work over the summer.”
Ayton has experience defending guys of Bamba’s stature like Brook Lopez. He knows their game plan so he just needs to stick to his.
“My main thing is to protect the rim,” Ayton said. “Sometimes bigs like Brook Lopez will try to take me outside the paint and make me stay on him and not protect the paint and stay away from the rim.”
Late in games, Ayton’s effort has been in question. He has reiterated that he’s still learning and sometimes gets taken aback from some of his matchups. Regardless of if the Suns win or lose with Ayton at the forefront, Kokoskov stands by his rookie.
“I believe in my guys,” Kokoskov said. “Deandre is our starting center. He’s our future and in games when he struggled I’m not saying I’m necessarily going to be stubborn and lose the game and try to walk through the wall but I’m going to stick with my guys. If he’s the guy who wins the game for us some games and he’s a dominant center, then I’m going to give him an opportunity to have bad games, too.”
Koskokov has three different packages offensively that he’s working with.
Devin Booker needs the ball in his hands when playing the point. Elie Okobo plays more without the ball and more with the pass. Jamal Crawford’s mentality is to score when he’s handling the ball so better spacing and floor balance is needed for him to be most effective running the point.
Suns will be without T.J. Warren tonight. He has been ruled out due to right ankle soreness. Josh Jackson will move into the starting lineup with Booker, Mikal Bridges, Trevor Ariza and Ayton.
“Josh can break the lane, get in the paint, turn the corner and put pressure on the rim so we got to do something about it as a team and Josh can do it,” Koskokov said. “He can attack the rim. We have to be more aggressive and more relentless when it comes to attacking the rim and he can do that.”
Magic starting power forward, Aaron Gordon, has also been ruled out for tonight’s matchup.