When: 5:00 p.m. AZ
Where: Quicken Loans Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Suns - Tyler Johnson, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson, Deandre Ayton
Cavaliers - Collin Sexton, Brandon Knight, David Nwaba, Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic
OffRtg - 105.4 (26th), DefRtg - 116.3 (30th), NetRtg = minus-11.0
According to multiple reports out of Cleveland this morning, Kevin Love isn’t on the injury report as the Cavaliers begin their post-All-Star break stretch. Love has been battling a foot injury all season, so having him back at full strength could loom large in the tank race involving other bottom dwellers like New York and Chicago. At the moment, Cleveland is 1.5 games behind Phoenix in the reverse standings while two games ahead Chicago. Adding in a player of Love’s caliber could surely change things on a small level when every percentage point matters in the Zion Williamson derby.
And when you examine the cases for each team near the bottom why they should luck into Williamson, Cleveland is near the top based off pure roster construction.
It’s early, but I think they missed on their latest pick in Sexton (I had De’Anthony Melton higher on my final big board at Nos. 13 and 14) while no other talented young building blocks are there, unless you really consider someone like Osman a true game-changing piece.
Sure, Sexton has averaged 22.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists over his past five games, but it took him almost 20 shot attempts (19.8) to reach that clip. The warning signs we saw last season at Alabama with his tunnel vision and lack of pure point guard skills have showed themselves often with the Cavaliers. Personally, I see Sexton more as a secondary building block compared to one you actually build the whole operation around.
It’s quite possible within two or three years time Cleveland is still in this same position, because, 1.) nobody wants to willingly go play there unless you are from the city like LeBron James and 2.) there continues to be no stability there, similarly to Phoenix. That’s why the inevitable Kevin Love trade this summer is so important. If Cleveland doesn’t get a top pick to nab one of the Duke players, they better get back at least one legitimate starting option while securing more future draft capital.
By the way, if you haven’t kept track, two former Suns will be playing their old team tonight. Both Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight landing in Cleveland before the Feb. 7 trade deadline after being shipped from the Valley to Houston at the end of August.
Chriss, who is one of the headliners alongside Dragan Bender to the historically bad 2016 draft haul, has averaged 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds while Knight checks in at 7 points and 2.7 assists in three appearances (the last two being starts in the backcourt with Sexton).
When glancing over the Suns’ upcoming schedule, this is one of their most winnable games. The sad factoid being known now, though, is that the Cavaliers somehow have one more win as we leave All-Star weekend in the rearview mirror.
OffRtg - 104.1 (28th), DefRtg - 113.9 (29th), NetRtg = minus-9.8 (29th)
Here is the schedule for the Suns following tonight’s tilt with the Cavaliers: at Atlanta, at Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee, New York, at Portland, at Golden State, Utah, at Houston. If they are unable to notch a victory in Cleveland, that might be the best opportunity of winning a game over the next two weeks before New York comes to town.
And outside of New York and Cleveland, there’s a strong chance the Suns could be sitting with a record of 13-57 with 13 games remaining following this specific stretch. Who knows, if the worst-case scenario happens, they could be in an even worse position a month from now if Phoenix is unable to climb out of the divot they’ve created over the past 15 games.
If the Suns lose tonight, they will move past last year’s mark (where they were intentionally tanking the final six weeks or so of the season) of 15 consecutive losses. How that is even possible after adding in so much more young talent beats me, but there’s not many adjectives to describe the disappointment around the Valley about it.
For this newly titled must-win game, and you would hopefully imagine by the players and coaching staff believe the same too, Booker is definitely the biggest X-factor to pulling off a victory. Usually against non-competitive teams, Booker has field days putting up 25-35 points and at least 5-7 rebounds and assists. In New York earlier this season, he went off for almost 40 while propelling the Suns to the rare feeling of winning. (Phoenix has won four total games since this moment over two months ago, Booker only twice.)
Whatever way you want to slice it, the Suns need to come out with a different mentality at Quicken Loans Arena. Pride needs to be there so this team can avoid being the one that is added to the record books for 16 straight losses. The thing is, compared to the Knicks, Bulls and Cavaliers, the Suns aren’t actually trying to tank.
Something has to give in this toilet bowl of sorts between two teams toiling at the bottom of the standings. Will Phoenix snap their 15-game losing streak or will Cleveland continue it with the record breaker?
Well, I’ve been way off lately when predicting wins, but I think this has to be one. The Suns need to come out with some urgency after being flat-out embarrassed in Los Angeles last week before the All-Star break. Booker drops 30-plus points while Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges pick up the slack around him to a close victory.
If this ends up a loss for Phoenix, who knows where this team goes from here.
Suns 119, Cavaliers 115