What: Dallas Mavericks (11-6) at Phoenix Suns (8-9)
When: 7:00 PM, Friday Night
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Whadda yah know, we have our first Luka time of the season! The Luka-led Dallas Mavericks have blown out of the gates this season with an 11-6 record, while the
Ayton -led Phoenix Suns started off just as strong but have faltered recently and sit at just 8-9.
How good has Luka Doncic been? He’s led a relatively journeyman group of NBA players to the best offense in the league while putting up historically good numbers. There’s a ton of accolades to give him, but the bottom line is that Doncic is the youngest player ever with so many triple doubles on the way to this season’s averages of 30.1 points, 10 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game on 56.2% effective field goal (eFG) and 62.5% true shooting (TS).
The 6’8” does everything for the Mavericks, but most of all he gives them an identity as an exciting team to watch and likely playoffs lock, despite only having one other player good enough to put up even half of any one of his top stats (Kristaps Porzingis).
Luka leads the world in luka-lovers and should be given every bit of credit as one of the best 20-year olds ever to grace the basketball planet.
And, the rest of the Mavs
Oh yeah, there’s other guys on that team too. There’s the on-court-rehabbing Kristaps Porzingis, who is playing for the first time in nearly two years but even in a shell of himself is posting 18 points (including 37% on 6.3 threes) and 9.2 rebounds per game.
After that, the Mavericks best scorers are Tim Hardaway Jr. at 12.2 per game and Dorian Finney-Smith at 8.9 per game.
So yes, there’s LUKA, then Porzee, then the rest.
What about Ayton?
Remember the guy the Suns took ahead of Luka last year because dummies like me thought supreme talent would be more special in a 7’0” Adonis than a 6’8” chunky point guard?
Deandre Ayton has only played one game this year (18 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks in a 29-point win over the Kings) before being suspended 25 games for taking a banned diuretic. He’s still got 10 games to serve, including this matchup with the Mavericks.
And, the rest of the Suns
Ayton has a better supporting cast, in my opinion, than Luka has in Dallas. Do you see Kristaps and that bunch winning without Luka like the Suns have done without Ayton?
Ayton has Devin Booker, seen by many as an All-Star this year as long as the Suns stay relevant into the spring, which they should. Booker averages 24.9 points, 6.2 assists and 3.6 rebounds on 58.2% eFG and 63.8% TS.
Ricky Rubio is back, and as of Fright night so should Aron Baynes. That puts the Suns back into the 7-4 type team range with all those parts ready to go.
Strength of Schedule
I’ll just share this, because a Suns fan will and should think this is relevant. ESPN’s RPI rankings have the Suns with the 4th most difficult schedule to date, while the Mavericks come in at 21st most difficult.
Factoring in that SOS plus other things like margin of victory, this index puts the Mavericks as the league’s 11st best team with the Suns right behind at 12th.
Assuming health, these teams are about the same level of good, even without Ayton on the Suns.
Tale of the Tape
Who will defend the 6’8” playmaking Luka? The Clippers this week bottled up Luka and the rest of the Mavericks could not make up for it, as the Clippers won 114-99. But the Clippers had huge All-Defense wings Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to do the dirty work.
The last time the Suns had to go against an oversized ball handler was Ben Simmons for the Sixers and they used size to deter the big guy from getting points in the paint. But Ben couldn’t shoot, so that’s not really relevant.
Luka’s problem for defenses is that you can’t go small on him to defend the perimeter or he will bowl you over, and you can’t go big — they did against Ben with Baynes sometimes — because he will just shoot over you.
I expect the Suns will use a range of players, but the one who was most effective last year on Luka was Mikal Bridges with his great lateral movement, quick feet and long arms.
Aron Baynes is (probably) back! Ricky Rubio feels good. Everyone else not suspended is healthy.
I’ll predict a Suns win!