When: 8:30 p.m. MST
Where: Unnamed Suns Arena
Watch: ESPN/Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station
Here we are. It’s only been about four months since we last saw the Suns on the court after we were blessed with basketball in the Bubble thanks to Adam Silver and the man now lining up as the Suns’ starting point guard, but it feels like an eternity since we saw a real regular season game, a real playoff chase, a normal look at the Devin Booker-Deandre Ayton duo. All that stuff that has been building up in the chests of Suns fans for two-plus years now.
Of course it comes against Luka Doncic and Dallas (again) as the schedule-makers and national TV producers try to make this a rivalry resulting from the 2018 NBA Draft. But it should be quite a fun matchup and a good challenge for the Suns, plus no game can be wasted in this condensed 2020-21 schedule. Let’s dive in.
Suns: Chris Paul (!), Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton
Mavericks: Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell
The biggest things I’m watching going into this game are defense and the bench. I wrote here about how Dario Saric could bolster the second unit, but he is out tonight as right quad soreness continues to keep him out of even five-on-five work in practice. After being cut by Sacramento and leaving the NBA COVID-19 regimen for a bit, Frank Kaminsky is also out tonight as he gets back on track with testing and isolating.
That all places more scrutiny on Cameron Payne and/or Backup Point Guard Devin Booker to juice the second unit, as well as role players like E’Twaun Moore and Cameron Johnson to improve upon their preseason performance. If they can move the ball and make open jumpers, the backups can make a difference on this team.
As for the defense, the Suns put up a paltry defensive rating in the preseason and in my opinion it’s where their lack of chemistry really showed. Especially in help, it will likely take time for guys like Crowder, Paul and Bridges to make an impact and find their way onto a string the way the best teams are. That process starts today, and fortunately we know Bridges always tends to pose challenges for Doncic.
“I love guarding the best player,” Bridges said. “But it’s not just me and him ... it’s all five of us.
“I’ve just gotta be aggressive and gotta show my hand for sure.”
Having a defender like Bridges at the point of attack will help the Suns in matchups like these, but guarding the best offense in the NBA is going to be a handful to start the season.
During a post-shootaround conversation with reporters, Paul mentioned how the emphasis going into the season was just to “compete.” In Paul’s mind, that meant playing all out every possession and committing to the stylistic and cultural identity the Suns are building. This is the first building block of that process.
What I’m watching with the Mavs to open the season is if they can add any new wrinkles to their offense to be more effective in late-game situations. For that reason, I’m hoping we get a close contest tonight.
This is something Mike Prada documented excellently in his Prada’s Pictures newsletter, but while Dallas was the best offense in NBA history last year, they were poor in the clutch. They often failed to hustle into sets and move and pass with purpose the same way they did during the rest of the game, in part because of how defenses pressured Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
Though Porzingis is out tonight with a lingering knee issue, it will be fascinating to see whether Bridges’ defensive pressure can get Doncic out of rhythm and allow the Suns to prevail in the fourth quarter, assuming we do indeed get a close game. If Bridges is grooving, I wonder if we start to see Doncic try out a post game or if head coach Rick Carlisle tries some stuff where someone like Richardson initiates the offense to allow Doncic to operate in rhythm and in space more consistently.
I do see this one going the distance, and I expect Doncic and Booker to both be lights out. They both have a lot at stake this season. A lot will come down to how the Suns defend Doncic in the pick and roll, but if it does go down to the wire, I believe Paul and Booker will outmatch the Mavs’ scorers.
With that said, I’m predicting a narrow Suns victory.
Suns 120, Mavericks 118