When: Saturday, 5:30 PM AZ Time
Where: Barclays Center, NY
Watch: NBA TV, Bally Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
The Phoenix Suns biggest showdown since opening week comes against the Brooklyn Nets and Kevin Durant, one of the frontrunners for league MVP this year.
The Suns and Nets are similar this year in that they are not playing their best basketball but are gutting out win after win against soft competition to stay among the league’s best teams.
The Suns are off to a scorching start, winning 15 games in a row, but their focus is much further down the road. These early-season games are just a matter of taking care of business, notching as many wins as possible for playoff seeding reasons.
“We are not working for today,” Ayton said. “We are working for where the big stage (playoffs) is at. I’m glad we have a swag and a mentality where we are just winning games, working on us. But we’re working on something way bigger than what the league is thinking, especially for the long long run.”
Probable Starting Lineups
*subject to change for the Nets
- JaVale McGee (ankle soreness) — QUESTIONABLE
- Abdel Nader (knee soreness) — OUT
- Frank Kaminsky (stress fracture - knee) — OUT indefinitely
- Dario Saric (ACL surgery rehab) — OUT
- Bruce Brown (hamstring) — PROBABLE
- JOE HARRIS (ankle) — OUT
- Nicholas Claxton (illness) — OUT
- Kyrie Irving (refusing mandatory vaccine) — OUT
The Brooklyn Nets are very good but definitely not the best possible version of themselves. To win a championship, they will likely need All-Star Kyrie Irving back in the fold. Who knows what will happen between now and April, but at this point Irving and the city/NBA are in a stare-down over COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Meantime, they can win 50-60 games and finish with a top-two seed in the East without Irving because they have two other All-Stars and MVP-caliber players in Kevin Durant and James Harden along with a host of good role players.
Durant is playing at an MVP level again this year, simply carrying the Nets through their early season schedule. He’s doing it all, leading the Nets in points, rebounds and big shots while dishing the second-most assists on the team.
James Harden is a shadow of himself without the easy fouls calls on drives into a defender (lowest FG% and scoring in a decade), but is still posting All-Star level numbers that approach 20-point-triple-doubles each night.
If you thought the Lakers were old, check out the Nets. Five of the Nets top seven rotation players are age 32 or older (by contrast, the Suns have only Paul and McGee in that range) and that doesn’t include 36-year old Paul Millsap, who is struggling to find his role on the team behind the also-aged Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Former Suns player Jevon Carter, a spry chicken on this team at only 26 years old, has been struggling to make shots in Brooklyn (26% shooting!) but still has a role on this Nets team thanks to his efforts on defense. Carter has played in all 18 of the Nets games for 14.9 minutes per game.
So far this season, the Nets are breaking even against good teams while cleaning up on bottom feeders.
This is a big-time showdown on Saturday night on NBATV and will likely come down to the wire.
My best guess: Suns win, 117-115