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Preview: Suns cap off another back-to-back with trip to San Antonio

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The young guys showed promise last night. Will it continue versus the Spurs?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns travel to the San Antonio Spurs

When: 6:30 p.m. AZ

Where: AT&T Center

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable Starters:

Suns - De’Anthony Melton, Mikal Bridges, Trevor Ariza, T.J. Warren, Deandre Ayton

Spurs - Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge

Suns

OffRtg - 101.7 (28th), DefRtg - 112.6 (28th), NetRtg = minus-10.9 (29th)

First off, I wanted to hit on Melton. His play over his past four games, especially the first two starts of his career, has impressed me big-time. Melton is already showing he’s not afraid to take shots when the game is on the line. Not only that, but he won’t step down from a well-known veteran like Patrick Beverley who is getting in his grill for 94 feet.

On Monday night, Melton hit the game-tying midrange jumper to send it into overtime while pouring in his usual defensive impact. When Danilo Gallinari tried to win it, Melton as a 6’4” guard held his own with an above-average wingspan. Gallinari’s shot clanked, but it’s safe to say Melton is already proving in short order he’s the Suns’ best point guard on their roster.

Until further notice, Melton is going to be one of the players I focus on. His fit alongside Booker really intrigues me more as every game on the schedule passes.

Yet the X-factor for the Suns tonight, in my opinion, is actually Josh Jackson. I was heavily pondering Ayton here, but Jackson is coming off his best game of the season versus the Clippers. Off the bench, Jackson tallied 18 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block on 8-15 FGA (2-3 3PA). On top of that, Jackson only logged one turnover.

Monday’s impressive play from Jackson showcased the Kansas version, finally. He was utilized as a secondary playmaker who made quick decisions, not just dribbling multiple times without a plan. The question now is whether Jackson can maintain consistency over the next few weeks. Far too often have we seen Jackson have a strong game, but then put up four or five clunkers in a row.

Playing next to guys like Melton, Bridges, and Richaun Holmes could be rubbing off on Jackson’s two-way motor in a positive manner.

“Oh, it’s really contagious,” Jackson said of Holmes’ energy on the court. “All you need is one. It starts with one guy. It’s kind of hard to just watch somebody work so hard, you know try every possession and you know you’re not giving your all and you continue not to. So, just need one guy. He brings it every game and that’s his role for us.”

More lineups featuring Jackson, Melton, and Holmes please.

Spurs

OffRtg - 110.0 (10th), DefRtg - 112.9 (29th), NetRtg = minus-2.9 (23rd)

Could the Spurs be a secret team in the Ariza sweepstakes? Last night, the Spurs had Assistant GM Brian Wright and one of their head scouts in attendance. San Antonio has fallen by the wayside early on. DeRozan and Aldridge are a nice duo, but there’s really nothing else on the Spurs’ roster.

Enter Ariza, who could slide in at either forward spot next to DeRozan. Either Ariza could bump DeRozan back down to shooting guard, or he could move Gay into a sixth man role. Either way, Ariza would be a welcome sight to the Spurs’ locker room.

What would it take from San Antonio’s point of view, though? Really, there is nothing much from an asset standpoint either for the Spurs. All they would have to offer for Ariza would be one of Patty Mills or Gay paired with a future first-round pick. Is that enough compared to others offers? No, I don’t think so, but don’t be surprised if the Spurs stay aggressive on the trade market as they try to make another playoff run with head coach Gregg Popovich.

Anyways, I believe the Spurs’ X-factor on Tuesday night will be their star, DeRozan. So far this season, DeRozan is averaging 24.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists while also carrying his second-best PER ever. Only six players are putting up 24-5-6 numbers: James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and DeRozan.

Within Popovich’s offense, DeRozan has transformed into a two-level scoring version of Harden or Booker. Even though DeRozan is only hitting on 17.1 percent of his three-pointers, he can still get to whatever spot he wants.

If DeRozan gets going early, we could be on the verge of witnessing another Suns blowout loss. Shut down DeRozan, then maybe the Suns could possibly pull off this upset down in San Antonio.

Prediction

Last night’s closely contested loss in overtime felt like a stepping stone game for the Suns, even without Devin Booker. Players like Melton, Bridges, Ayton, and Jackson all produced while hopefully gaining confidence simultaneously. Surprisingly, I expect more of the same on Tuesday in San Antonio.

This will be Ayton’s third matchup against Aldridge. Ayton won the last time, so this could be an intriguing one-on-one battle. I think Aldridge and Ayton both produced, but Aldridge has one of the outings where he can’t miss at all from midrange.

Add in another vintage DeRozan performance and I’m predicting the Spurs barely squeak past these young, resilient Suns.

Spurs 110, Suns 103