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Preview: Suns travel to Boston for COVID-depleted New Year’s Eve matinee

Shorthanded Suns look to build off runaway win

Boston Celtics v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (27-7) vs Boston Celtics (16-19)

When: 11:00 a.m. AZ time

Where: TD Garden, Boston, MA

Watch: Bally Sports Arizona

Listen: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM


With the Suns’ win over Oklahoma City on Wednesday, they avoided what would’ve been a three-game skid. Conversely, the Celtics are in the midst of their own three-game skid. Most recently, Boston struggled mightily to score against the Clippers in a Wednesday loss thanks to their starters combining to shoot 1-28 from three. None of their bench players scored more than six, making for a tough night on the offensive end, finishing with 82 on the night.

With both teams shorthanded dealing with Covid up and down the roster — as most teams are at this point — depth will likely be the deciding factor in this contest.

Another key factor is whether Devin Booker can continue his hot streak from these past two games, scoring 68 points on just 44 shots after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown is also coming off a recent hamstring injury, and he’s been producing, but lately he’s reached an inefficient slump, averaging 27 points on 37.2% from the field and 17.9% from three in his past three games.


Projected Starting Lineups:

Suns:

  • Chris Paul
  • Devin Booker
  • Mikal Bridges
  • Cam Johnson
  • Jalen Smith

Celtics:

  • Payton Pritchard
  • Romeo Langford
  • Jaylen Brown
  • Al Horford
  • Robert Williams

Suns Report:

With both of their top two bigs out, the Suns lucked out in playing the Celtics next, since they like to play small anyway. Phoenix is also fortunate to be likely getting Ish Wainright back into the rotation, as he’s been out with a back injury but is now probable to return. Wainright could fill in some of the minutes against Grant Williams, a shorter but still burly big that Boston likes off the bench.

Amidst all the guys out, don’t be surprised if the newest Sun, MJ Walker, who did travel with the team to Boston after officially signing on Friday, makes his debut for the squad in this game. Walker — who will be wearing jersey no. 21 — brings a lot of the catch-and-shoot capabilities and athleticism that can prove fruitful in a game like this where minutes are open. I’d certainly like to see him play ahead of two-way wing Chandler Hutchison, who played eight minutes against Oklahoma City and failed to impress.

However, Wainright and Walker making their imprints felt on the game is so far down the list of priorities for who needs to play well. As long as Booker can continue to perform like a first-team All-NBA guard, Mikal Bridges can bring his steadiness to the floor, and Jalen Smith doesn’t look lost as a starter, Phoenix should be a-okay.

Injuries:

COVID List: Monty Williams, Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, Javale McGee, Elfrid Payton, Abdel Nader

Ish Wainright (probable — lower back), Dario Saric (out — ACL), Frank Kaminsky (out — knee)


Celtics Report:

When I mentioned that the Boston starters shot 1-28 from the three, I didn’t for one second think that’ll happen again, but the team as a whole shot 4-42 against the Clippers, so the Suns will likely try to force them into those shots and make the Celtics prove they can make their living there.

Boston’s 6-foot-9 big Robert Williams was the only Celtic to shoot above 50% against the Clippers when he totaled 16 points (8-10 shooting) and 14 rebounds, and if Jalen Smith doesn’t come ready to play physically and intelligently in the pick-and-roll, it could be an even bigger game for Williams.

Jaylen Brown is the most prolific option that Boston has offensively, but his recent inefficiencies can be repeated if the Suns force him to work hard on both ends. Booker should attack him offensively and Bridges should throw the kitchen sink at Brown in terms of physicality and just shadowing off-ball defensively. Don’t let anything be easy for Brown.

Injuries:

COVID List: Enes Freedom, Bruno Fernando, C.J. Miles, Aaron Nesmith, Jayson Tatum, Dennis Schroder

Marcus Smart (day-to-day — hand)


Prediction:

If the Suns come ready, this could be easy, but they haven’t made it look easy this past week, so I’m expecting Phoenix’s stars to impose their will and lead the Suns to victory.