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Saric, Jones still out due to COVID safety protocols; Smith available

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The Phoenix Suns will play their third game without three backup centers

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly two weeks since that fateful game against the Washington Wizards, the Phoenix Suns are still short on big man depth due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

While we can feel grateful the Suns are playing at all, considering neither the Wizards nor the Grizzlies have played any games since playing the Suns in the past 12 days, their big man depth is a source of concern.

Along the front line, all of Deandre Ayton’s top backups Dario Saric, Damian Jones and rookie Jalen Smith have been out. Jalen Smith has curiously been unavailable for all but a few of the team’s first 13 games due to either ankle issues or COVID protocols. Saric and Jones have missed the last two games since the team resumed play. Of the three, Saric is the most sorely missed.

In a turn of events, the Suns status update to media says that Jalen Smith WILL be available versus the Nuggets.

In their place, the Suns have used Frank Kaminsky with varying success, and mostly relied on Deandre Ayton to step up his game. In the two games since the COVID break, the Suns big men have produced:

  • Deandre Ayton: 35.1 minutes per game, averaging 22 points, 16.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks
  • Frank Kaminsky: 12.9 minutes per game, averaging 6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

The Suns (8-5) play a weekend pair at home against the Denver Nuggets (7-7), who employ the mighty MVP-level skills of Nikola Jokic and talented backup JaMychal Green, as well as the lanky Bol Bol.

I’ll be curious to see if the Suns play the taller veteran Frank (7’0”) against the Nuggets size, or if they opt for the athleticism of the slightly shorter rookie Jalen Smith (6’10”). Depends on the matchups I suppose.

The Suns beat the Nuggets earlier this season 106-103 to run their record to 5-1 while dropping the Nuggets to 1-4.

In that Suns win, Ayton had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks while Frank Kaminsky had 3 points and 4 rebounds in 10 minutes behind Ayton. None of Saric, Jones or Smith played.

Overall, the Nuggets have still won 15 of the last 18 meetings between the two teams and have won 6 of their last 9 games since that game while the Suns have won only 3 of 7.