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Preview: Suns play last Ayton-less game against Trail Blazers before suspension lifted

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Will the Suns drop to 4-11 in their last 15 games, or will we see one last big win before Ayton’s return Tuesday?

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host the Portland Trail Blazers

When: 7:00 p.m. AZ time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable Starters:

Suns - Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky

Trail Blazers - Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Kent Bazemore, Carmelo Anthony, Hassan Whiteside


Trail Blazers

OffRtg = 109.4 (11th), DefRtg = 111.3 (21st), NetRtg = minus-1.9 (20th)

Honestly, I never expected to see Carmelo play another minute in the NBA. However, it’s fun to see an NBA legend back and doing well once more for a team who tried to recruit him multiple times in the past. Throughout my childhood, Carmelo and Allen Iverson were the most fun team to watch. That Nuggets squad was so fun, and that was truly peak Anthony to me. Being able to witness one of the league’s purest scorers in-person will be a treat, that’s for sure.

Lillard and McCollum having Melo as another shooting option was desperately needed when you realize Mario Hezonja was being relied on early as a third option. That wasn’t going to sustain long-term, so why not kick the tires on Melo and see what happens? At least so far, it’s paying dividends.

The thing is, this Trail Blazers team seems vastly overrated and one who really shouldn’t be considered a real threat to make noise in the Western Conference. So, what should Portland do? To me, it screams trade season as Dec. 15 has officially arrived, opening up the floodgates for activity to ensue.

Unless Portland wants to be pressured into dealing McCollum this time next season, which could easily happen if this team continues to plateau, they might be the only real team who would be aggressive pursuing Kevin Love.

What about a deal for Portland centered around their expiring contracts of Bazemore and Whiteside plus a 2020 first-round pick? Reportedly Cleveland isn’t getting the offers they desired for Love, so the price could be heavily discounted the longer this drags out.

Adding Love alongside Lillard, McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Melo would be interesting for sure, but it might have to be done before it’s too late for this current era in Portland. Right now, I would lean towards the Trail Blazers being the heavy favorites to acquire Love sometime between now and February.

If not, don’t be shocked if this is the next team to truly blow it all up to pieces within the next year being stuck in neutral.

Suns

OffRtg = 110.7 (7th), DefRtg = 109.3 (18th), NetRtg = plus-1.4 (12th)

Without Ayton since their season opener where the former No. 1 pick looked dominant, Phoenix has floated around .500 with a 10-14 record. However, it’s too obvious to point out how much they miss their 7-foot Bahamian beast. Over the last week-plus, envisioning Ayton in place of Kaminsky or Baynes has been an easy thought exercise.

Once Ayton returns, how will he operate within this system? Will he shoot threes like Baynes and Kaminsky? Will more pick-and-roll be used with Rubio, which was teased all throughout game one? There’s plenty of avenues this Ayton integration could go. The Suns will be the most intriguing team in the Association over the next few weeks as Ayton adjusts again to heavy minutes.

Outside of Ayton’s eventual return tomorrow, another subplot to follow is the backup point guard situation. After Ty Jerome struggled mightily, he was usurped by Elie Okobo. Will that be what happens moving forward until Jerome is 100 percent ready? Personally, yes, that’s how it really should be for now. Jerome looks nowhere close to ready, so go with other options until he is.

Closing this out, we can’t forget to mention that Booker is the only member of the 2019-20 50/40/90 club. That’s an incredible accomplishment, and shows how much of a leap Booker has taken thanks to competent teammates, especially a pass-first point guard, around him.

Is Booker still on the All-Star path? Absolutely. At this rate, it would be a true crime if Booker doesn’t make his first ever appearance with the Western Conference all-stars. If you add in efficiency along with his best effort defensively of his career thus far, Booker should be an easy choice as a reserve.

Prediction

This one is going to be very closely contested throughout, but I believe the true star power wins out in the end. Especially if Booker doesn’t play or is hampered by his injury, then Portland could cruise here. However, I don’t see that happening.

Thanks to strong outings from Oubre Jr., Baynes, and Rubio, Phoenix will keep this close until Lillard and Co. swing the momentum late. If this happens, Phoenix would be 4-11 over their last 15 games after a hot start to the season.

Ayton is needed badly, and luckily he returns in less than 24 hours to the Suns’ starting lineup.

Trail Blazers 118, Suns 114