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Preview: Suns look to upend LeBron James and the retooled Cavaliers

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Will Devin Booker lead the Suns to an upset tonight over Cleveland?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host Cleveland Cavaliers

When: 7 pm AZ time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable starters:

Suns - Elfrid Payton, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender, Tyson Chandler

Cavaliers - George Hill, J.R. Smith, Jeff Green, LeBron James, Larry Nance Jr.

Cavaliers

OffRtg = 110.2 (5th), DefRtg = 109.9 (28th), NetRtg = 0.3 (17th)

it's safe to say this season has been an adventure for Cleveland. Not only did Kyrie Irving force his way out after they made their third-straight Finals appearance, but it seemed to be caused by wanting to out of LeBron James’ shadow.

Now, let's fast forward to February of 2018.

All of the sudden, Isaiah Thomas is their point guard after trading him to Boston and the team seems to be crumbling around him. There is no effort on either end and rumors are bellowing out from every corner about LeBron leaving.

At this year’s trade deadline, GM Koby Altman retooled this roster on the fly with three separate deals. I’m a fan of those moves, too.

Not only should George Hill be a huge help in their backcourt, but Larry Nance Jr. is the ideal modern-day small-ball 5 in these lineups. So far with Nance Jr. at center has paid huge dividends with LeBron at the 4 himself.

After losing their last outing by double-digits in Los Angeles, I expect an angry crew of Cavs tonight to walk into Talking Stick Resort Arena.

Outside of that, though, when crystal-balling out their future this summer, LeBron seems like a goner. Cleveland has done a mediocre job trying to build a consistent contender around him and if I had to pick a place right now, I would actually lay my money down on Houston.

I still don’t believe LeBron makes much sense in LA if he wants to win another title by 2020 because I still don’t see how he upends Golden State.

However, if he went to Houston, that’s a whole different ballgame. Alongside Chris Paul, his life-long friend, and James Harden, that trio could beat the Warriors in 6 in my humble opinion.

If that’s the case, lucky for them they acquired Brooklyn’s first-round pick in the Kyrie trade, so odds are they end up with one of Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr. or Marvin Bagley III to lead a new era of Cavaliers basketball if he leaves this summer.

Even though this has been a season filled with drama for Cleveland, as it usually is with LeBron, I still can’t see how a team defeats them out East in a 7 game series.

Not only do I expect Warriors vs. Cavaliers, Round 4, but LeBron to be on a mission tonight after losing to the Lakers on Sunday. Watch out.

Suns

OffRtg = 102.1 (28th), DefRtg = 110.4 (T30th), NetRtg = -8.3 (29th)

Since the All-Star Break, Devin Booker has been on an absolute tear for Phoenix. Not only is Booker second in scoring over that span with 31.4 ppg (Anthony Davis is 1st with 32.1 ppg) but he’s also shooting 40.6% on 3s, an area I continue to monitor in his offensive evolution in Year 3. Booker is also averaging 5 rebounds and 4 assists, even with Elfrid Payton’s inclusion, so those all-around numbers definitely look to be maintaining.

As GM Ryan McDonough pointed out back in September, Booker was on the cusp of turning into an elite offensive weapon. Turns out, we’re already there as their 21-year-old star continues to prove on a nightly basis.

When the lights are on brightest against bigger competition, Booker thrives. I expect more of the same when he’s lined up across from LeBron tonight.

Last game in Charlotte, all three of Phoenix’s wings in Booker, Warren, and Jackson sat out. They are all full-go tonight against last season’s Eastern Conference champions.

Speaking of Jackson, I wanted to quickly discuss his production so far this season before making a prediction for tonight’s matchup.

Per 36 minutes (entire season): 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.7 blocks with an eFG% of 44.3%

Per 36 minutes (since new year): 20.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.8 blocks with an eFG% of 47.5%

Here are the only forwards averaging at least 17-6-2-1 per 36: LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Aaron Gordon, Ben Simmons, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Jackson.

As you can see, when stretching Jackson’s minutes out to starter quality, he’s producing like a top-five pick should be.

For all of the Suns’ young core — Booker, Jackson, Bender, Chriss, etc. — whoever the next coach is will play a huge factor in how they further develop. As I have mentioned plenty of times this season on Locked On Suns, that decision is even more important than what happens on draft night.

Even though the Suns have now lost 20 of 22, the signs are there if they are able to properly construct a roster around Booker and these young secondary pieces.

It’s not a mistake that LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, and Russell Westbrook all believe Booker is the next superstar in waiting.

Prediction

After being upset by the Lakers, expect LeBron to put on a show tonight at Talking Stick Resort Arena. It’s hard for me to gauge at the moment, but I think a triple-double line (something like 35-11-13) is definitely in the cards.

Even with that being said, for some reason, I expect this to be competitive through three quarters.

Booker will score 30+ and come close to a triple-double himself alongside another strong performance from Josh Jackson, but Cleveland pulls away over the final stretch.

Cavaliers 122, Suns 107