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Game Preview: Suns visit Hawks in search of 3-game win streak

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Phoenix Suns could have their first three-game win streak since October if they beat the Hawks in Atlanta

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (16-23) at Atlanta Hawks (8-32)

When: Tuesday, 5:30 PM AZ time (early start alert!)

Where: Atlanta, GA

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


The Suns begin a three-game road trip tonight in Atlanta with a good chance to take two of three and stay relevant in the West playoff picture. The Hawks have won just eight of 40 games this year, including two of their last 17.

While the Hawks may be the league’s worst team, they might at least have an All-Star in their lineup. Trae Young leads all guards in fan voting for the Eastern Conference, which counts 13 towards the final vote for All-Star starters. The other 23 belong to players and media, who still might prefer a player with more wins under his belt than Young. Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker are just behind Young in the voting. Still, with the dearth of All-Star quality guards in the West, Young is likely to be named as a reserve if he’s not a starter already.

Devin Booker’s All-Star campaign is a lot tougher in the West. Booker has to rely on putting up big numbers while the Suns win a few games before coaches pick the All-Star reserves, and a fat statistical game in a win against struggling Atlanta could help the cause.

Last time

The Suns won 128-112 over the Hawks in early November, capping the Suns best start in a decade with a 7-4 record. The Suns made 15 of 39 threes in that game, helping propel them momentarily to the top of the league in offense and three-point shooting.

But then injuries and regression hit and the Suns are still trying to find their footing again.

Projected Starting Lineups

Those in italics are listed as questionable

Hawks Update

If you thought the Suns were struggling this year, just take a look at the Hawks. After a fun little renaissance last year to 29 wins, they’ve regressed. Part of that was due to the 25-game suspension handed to star forward John Collins just a few days after the Suns’ Deandre Ayton got his.

The Hawks were less equipped to absorb the loss of their best man. They’ve won only eight games so far this year and seem to have a strangle hold on a top-three pick in June’s NBA Draft to continue their rebuild.

And now they’ve got a lot of guys filling up the injury report.

Who do the Hawks have left?

They’ve got power forward John Collins (22 years old), who in 14 games since his return from suspension has logged some fairly good stats: 17 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. He’s even been taking 4 three-pointers per game this year, averaging 33.3%, after not taking many in his two prior years.

They also have shooting guard Kevin Huerter (22) who is making 38.8% of his threes this year, posting 11.2 points per game, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists in a supporting role next to high-volume point guard Trae Young.

Cam Reddish is having a really forgettable rookie season, and no one else is averaging even 9 points per game this year. Any one of the remaining roster players could easily be nightly ‘20 off the bench’ guy that scares the Suns for 3+ quarters.

For the Hawks to win, they really need some of Trae Young (28.9 points, 8.4 assists, 4.5 rebounds per game), De’Andre Hunter (11.9 points, 3.7 rebounds) and Jabari Parker (15 points, 6 rebounds) to play through their nagging injuries. Even former Suns center Alex Len (9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 27% threes) would help.

Suns Update

The Suns are shooting for their first 3-game winning streak since October, but might have to win without Ricky Rubio who is expecting his first born child any day now.

If the Suns can win on Tuesday over a depleted Hawks team, they will have their 17th win a full two months earlier this year than last year and will pull back into about the 10th spot in the West.

The Suns are still second in the NBA in generating wide open three point shots, yet they are one of the worst in the league at making them. It’s clear the Suns do not have good three point shooters, but this graph shows that since December 1 most every Suns regular has been stinking it up worse than their career averages.

League average on making three-point attempts these days is 35.5%. As you can see, only a few Suns even exceed that mark since December 1.

The top shooter since then (Frank Kaminsky) is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his leg, while the second-best (Cameron Johnson) has hit his rookie wall the past couple of weeks and can’t make anything. The only decent-volume three point shooter who is above-average since December 1 is Kelly Oubre Jr., which passes everyone’s eye test.

The tide simply has to turn at some point, doesn’t it?

With most of the shots they’re taking being wide open, and with a more-settled rotation, it stands to reason that Devin Booker, Dario Saric, Ricky Rubio and Tyler Johnson will soon start hitting close to their career averages again.

And if no one steps up, it sure would be nice to have a better shooter coming off the bench after the trade deadline than Tyler Johnson, right?

Stats

Prediction

I think the Suns win this one, with or without Ricky Rubio. Devin Booker is pushing for his first All-Star game, and Kelly Oubre Jr. is on a high-energy roll.

Suns win, 120-110, methinks