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Preview: Durant-less Nets venture to the Valley for a primetime matchup with Suns

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Will the Suns be able to stop Harden and Kyrie? Will fans cheer louder for Steve Nash intro than any other Net?

Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Brooklyn Nets (17-12) vs. Phoenix Suns (17-9)

When: 8:30 P.M. MST

Where: PHX Suns Arena

Watch: TNT, YES Network

Listen: 98.7 FM


Ding ding! It’s time to enter battle, as two heavyweight contenders prepare to throw on their gloves, put up their dukes, and enter into a ferocious war.

Let’s get ready to rumble.

Both teams enter the matchup with kill-shots locked and loaded, and potent haymakers that can strike at any given moment. As Mike Tyson used to famously say “everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth,” and both of these teams can shatter jaws with their lethality at any given moment.

One thing’s for sure: the offensive explosiveness on display is going to be profound – perhaps to a greater extent than any matchup that the Suns have participated in up to this point – and that’s without Kevin Durant.

Welcome Home

This game also marks the return of Steve Nash to the building for the first time since he was inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor. Nash is now the (rookie) head coach of the Nets, and has two of his SSOL buddies on the coaching staff with him, including Mike D’Antoni (assistant coach) and Amare Stoudemire (player development assistant).

Your 17-9 Suns are off to their best start since the last time those three were on the Suns payroll, the 2007-08 season (an 18-8 start). Shortly after that season ended in another playoff loss to the Spurs, D’Antoni left the franchise. Stevie and Amare went on to carry the Suns to another WCF two years later, a team that matched this current team’s 17-9 start.

Be sure to welcome Steve, Mike and Amare with some of the warmth in your heart... before the game starts. Because once the game starts, it’s time to cheer for a Suns win. Gotta rep the CURRENT Suns.

Projected Starting Lineups:

Suns:

Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Frank Kaminsky, Deandre Ayton

Nets:

James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Bruce Brown, Joe Harris, DeAndre Jordan


Injury Report:

Suns: N/A

Nets:

Kevin Durant: Mild hamstring strain (day-to-day) – will not play

Iman Shumpert: Hamstring injury – out

Nicolas Claxton: Knee – out

Spencer Dinwiddie: ACL – out


Keys to the Game:

The Nets couldn’t be peaking at a more opportune time. They’re currently on a three-game win streak in which their No. 1-ranked offense has absolutely torn opposing defenses to shreds.

Harden/Kyrie

Kevin Durant was sidelined after a minor leg ailment following his return to the Bay Area this past weekend, but James Harden and Kyrie Irving picked up his slack effortlessly in their last two outings, showing just how deadly they can be when putting the ball in the basket from a variety of angles.

Harden looks comfortable, and poised as ever in the point guard’s slot after Irving blessed him with full control of the lead role. He followed up a marvelous 19 point, 16 assist expedition vs. GS with another triple-double against the Kings: 29 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds. He's been the consummate facilitator behind the Nets’ top-ranked FG percentage, as well as their 40% mark from deep – which currently pits them at 3rd in the association.

As for Irving, he shot 80% (read that again) from 3-point land vs. Sacramento en-route to a 40-ball, as his team shattered their previous franchise record with 27 made 3’s. He’ll undoubtedly be relied upon for primary off-ball scoring duties with Durant relegated to bench dormancy.

This is where the defensive fortitude of Mikal Bridges, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and the rest of Phoenix’s perimeter-defending supporting cast will be put to the test.

But the Suns have done well in defending alpha foes throughout their last few matchups. Granted – they haven’t seen this pair yet, but they held their own against the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Luka Doncic. They swarm with double-teams, are consistent on switches, and have some of the most effective communication in the league. It’s what’s vaulted them to fourth in the league in opponent points per game.

Nets defense

Brooklyn on the other hand, has been completely miserable on the opposite side of the ball. Bradley Beal’s sarcastic “we can’t guard a parked car” remark in reference to his Wizards can be wholeheartedly applied to the Nets, who’ve squandered several winning opportunities to a lack of fortifying control on defense.

They’re ranked 28th in points surrendered, and have been desperately scouring the professional basketball landscape for outside help as teams consistently capitalized on their glaring deficiencies.

This is a welcome sight for the surging Suns, who’ve been dominant on offense as they search for their seventh straight win. Devin Booker just won a deserved Western Conference Player of the Week award after bursting back onto the scene following a brief halt in action due to a leg injury. He looked virtually unstoppable against Orlando on his way to 27 big ones, while Chris Paul’s been a magnificent maestro of the ball, opening previously undiscovered avenues for Book to do damage.

Booker will again be aggressive in the game’s early onset, and watch for Paul to try to get Deandre Ayton involved early in the pick roll, as Brooklyn’s depleted front line projects to be ripe for conquering with DeAndre Jordan recently returning from the sideline.

Prediction

ESPN’s recent cover story star is just now getting his flowers after his whirlwind torpedo through the bubble, and he’s not eager to let that smell waft away any time soon. Booker’s talent will be on full display in one of his team’s biggest primetime games this season, and with something extra to prove to those whom have recently become aware of his regency, he takes full control of the game to propel the Suns to victory.

Booker goes for 30, while Ayton secures a double-double in a 122-110 victory in favor of Phoenix.