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Game Preview: Suns head to New York for rematch with Knicks

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Can the Suns bounce back in New York after an embarrassing loss in Atlanta?

NBA: New York Knicks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns @ New York Knicks

When: Time: 5:30 pm (Phoenix time)

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM


Ricky Rubio should be back for this game and hopefully he will be a difference maker tonight. While he was out awaiting the birth of his first child against the Hawks on Tuesday, the Suns lost a game they should have won... even without him.

With Rubio’s return tonight, Kelly Oubre Jr. will exit due to a concussion suffered during the Atlanta game. Such is the luck of this Suns team. The Suns have lived or died game by game with a very narrow margin for error this season. This team was built to be better than last season’s team but relies too much on ‘ifs’ rather than proven talent to win. If those ifs don’t mostly line up on the positive side of the ledger, then it tends to fall apart. Most of those ifs aren’t just up to random chance or luck though. Sometimes they come down to determination and drive. The Suns will need both of those tonight.

Both Phoenix and New York are coming off losses going into this game. Whoever wins might come down to which team has the biggest chip on their collective shoulders and/or just wants it the most. The Suns will hopefully have the bigger chip after losing to the Hawks who are tied with Golden State for the worst record in the NBA. The Knicks lost on the same night to the Bucks who have the best record in the NBA. No shame in that.

The “chip” edge should go to the Suns but the Knicks also probably want payback for the loss that the Suns handed to them in Phoenix just two weeks ago.

The Knicks (11-30)

Team Stats: OffRtg - 104.7 (27th), DefRtg - 113.0 (27th), NetRtg - minus-8.3 (27th)

Probable Starting Lineup: Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Taj Gibson

Team Leaders

  • Points: Marcus Morris (19.1)
  • Rebounds: Julius Randle (9.2)
  • Assists: Elfrid Payton (5.7)

Injury Report: Dennis Smith Jr. (Oblique) - Out, Frank Ntilikina (Groin) - Game Time Decision, Marcus Morris (Neck) - Game Time Decision, Reggie Bullock (Neck) - Game Time Decision, Mitchell Robinson (Toe) - Game Time Decision.

The Knicks are a patchwork team that their front office put together out of the best free agents that they could sign this summer after striking out with all of the big name free agents.

Their primary offensive weapons are Marcus Morris (19.1 ppg) and Julius Randle (18.8 ppg) and they average only 104.8 points per game (27th). Morris is listed as a game time decision at this time and it would only be a plus for the Suns if the Knicks’ leading scorer - and best 3pt marksman - is sidelined tonight. He hasn’t played since January 5 when he had a career best scoring night (38 pts/6-7 from three) against the LA Clippers. The Knicks are 1-4 since losing him to a neck injury. My bet is that he’ll play tonight though. The Knicks have a lot of injured players that are listed as a “Game Time Decision” which could have a large or relatively small impact on the game depending on which are finally ruled out and which - and how many - will actually play.

Elfrid Payton is averaging fewer assists per game this season (5.7) than any of his previous seasons in the NBA but that’s not really a knock on him. It’s difficult to get assists when your team is 26th in FG% (43.4%) and 25th in 3-PT% (34.0%).

The Knicks are near the bottom of the rankings in many statistics but they are a very good rebounding team (46.1 rpg, 9th) which also happens to be a weakness of the Suns (43.5 rpg, 24th). The Knicks are actually 1st in the NBA in offensive rebounding (12.0 pg) which played a big part in them making life difficult for the Suns in their first game in Phoenix. They are also 4th in second chance points.

Overall, the Knicks aren’t a very good team but they have some good players and a very solid bench when it comes to scoring (42.1 ppg, 6th) that by far outclasses the Suns bench (34.1 ppg, 21st for the season and 27.8 ppg, 27th over their last 10 games). They will not go down easy, especially in their own building.

The Suns (16-24)

Team Stats: OffRtg - 109.6 (13th), DefRtg - 110.7 (19th), NetRtg - minus-1.0 (16th)

Probable Starting Lineup: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes

Team Leaders

  • Points: Devin Booker (26.1)
  • Rebounds: Deandre Ayton (11.1)
  • Assists: Ricky Rubio (9.3)

Injury Report: Frank Kaminsky (kneecap) - Out, Kelly Oubre Jr. (concussion) - Out.

The Suns are 5-5 over their last ten games but they should have done better than that as they weren’t playing against a very tough schedule. They have continued to find ways to lose games that should have been wins, a trend that they need to find a way to end.

In their previous game against the Knicks, they got behind early but managed to pull out a win in the 4th quarter by finally hitting their threes (5 of their 10 makes from three were in the 4th), making free throws and just out scoring them 37-25 after starting the quarter down by 4.

They can’t afford to get down early again and hope that they will get hot later on to make up the difference. We know the Suns can play good defense when they want to and they need to ‘want to’ all game long for a change.

That first game was also the first time Monty Williams trotted out the twin-towers starting lineup of Deandre Ayton and Aron Baynes at PF/C. It actually worked fairly well against the Knicks with Ayton and Baynes combining for 35 points and 25 rebounds... but I would be surprised to see it again except for short bursts and not from the opening tip.

In the end, it was really Devin Booker’s and Kelly Oubre Jr.’s combined 67 points that pulled that game out of the fire. Ricky Rubio, Booker and Ayton also combined for 22 assists in that game, 3 more than New York’s total team assists. That was also 2 more than the Suns’ total team assists against the Hawks on Tuesday when Rubio was out.

Ricky is supposed to be back for this game and the Suns will need him if they want to avoid another loss, especially with Oubre out. Booker is also going to have to have a really good game and the bench is going to need to hold up their end of the scoring burden too.

Summary

The Suns aren’t going to have an easy time in this game. They are going to need a strong team rebounding effort to attempt to nullify the Knicks strength on the boards, a strong defensive effort, an above average scoring night from their bench and a really great night from their starters to get a win.

Having Ricky Rubio back at the helm will be a big plus too but only if the Suns’ shooters actually knock down the open looks he gives them. It’s probably going to be an uphill battle but my prediction is...

... Suns win 105-103.