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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns (12-9) square off with Boston Celtics (12-9) in pre-SB matinee

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Rise and shine! Before you get your Super Bowl plans in order, start the day off right with some Phoenix Suns basketball!

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (12-9) vs Boston Celtics (12-9)

When: 12:00 P.M. MST

Where: Phoenix, Arizona

Watch: NBA TV, FSAZ, NBCS Boston

Listen: 98.7 FM


Injury report

Celtics:

Romeo Langford - Out (wrist) will not play.

Jaylen Brown - Day-To-Day (knee) will not play.

Marcus Smart - Out (calf) The Celtics say Smart is expected to miss 2-to-3 weeks due to a strained left calf, via Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Suns:

Dario Saric - Day-to-Day (Covid-19) Game Time Decision.

Cameron Payne - Day-to-Day (foot) Game Time Decision.

Jae Crowder - Day-to-Day (foot) Game Time Decision.


Projected Starting Lineups

Suns:

  • PG – Chris Paul
  • SG – Devin Booker
  • SF – Mikal Bridges
  • PF – Frank Kaminsky
  • C – Deandre Ayton

Celtics:

  • PG – Kemba Walker
  • SG – Jayson Tatum
  • SF – Grant Williams
  • PF – Daniel Theis
  • C – Tristan Thompson

Sunday is an incredibly big game for the Suns. Not only is it their first matchup against a well-coached Boston troupe, they’ll be allowing fans in the arena for the first time all season – and the first time since March of 2020.

In this game, the Suns are honoring medical professionals for their tireless work during this pandemic by giving them free tickets to the game (need only show medical ID badge for entry). Tickets are given out in 2- and 4-packs for these pros and their families/friends. Many COVID safety protocols will be enforced.

Limited capacity restrictions will continue to remain in place – but still – any person who plays basketball professionally can wholeheartedly attest to the tremendous difference in the air that percolates arena atmospheres when fans are present, vs. absent. Plus, the distinction between jeering opposers and supportive followers can oftentimes be a deciding differentiator between a win, and a loss.

The matchup will be especially important for one Cam Johnson, who holds a personal appreciation for the special invites the team sent out to a few healthcare workers to watch them compete in person. Johnson’s own mother is a registered nurse:

Keys to the Game:

Jaylen Brown

The C’s have played just one game without their budding star guard – and it just so happened to be against one of the Western Conference’s top stalwarts in the LA Clippers. They were able to substantiate (to a certain degree) as second-year man Grant Williams saw his minutes swell to an amount (32) that more than doubled his previous outing (15).

But Brown’s absence in the lineup proved costly, and as Jayson Tatum transforms into the lone primary focus for attacking defenses with his sidekick sidelined, he’ll be forced to take on an especially accentuated scoring role. Brown is posting 26.4 ppg on a plus-50% shooting clip from the floor, and that type of rapid-fire potency is going be mammoth-sized hole to fill. Plus, Kemba Walker’s sputtered start isn’t going to Mae things any easier.

The Battle in the Box

Keep your eyes on these two matchups: Ayton vs. Thompson, and Kaminsky vs. Theis.

Frank Kaminsky turned a ton of heads when he erupted for a 15-point shooting masterpiece in the Suns’ last matchup vs. Detroit - a team that absolutely bludgeoned the Valley Boys inside in the previous pairing between the two. But head coach Monty Williams also turned a few startled necks when he announced that Kaminsky was likely to be the team’s starting four-man going forward. Of course, all coach-initiated decisions are fluid, and subject to change by game, but Phoenix has shown massive holes down low (and these reared themselves full-frontal when Zion Williamson drove a territorial claiming stake in his paint on his way to 28 big ones Wednesday).

Kaminsky was Uber-efficient Friday, so look for Daniel Theis to place a central focus on quenching his shooting inferno. Meanwhile, Thompson recently claimed he was still the “hardest working” big man in the league, so he’ll be chomping at the bit to get his hands on a young gun who’s poised to challenge him on that sentiment in Deandre Ayton.

Prediction:

Oh, and last but not least, we can’t forget about the potential All-Stars, especially Mr. “Sicko Mode” himself – Devin Booker. I expect him to push the scoring issue more as he strives to elevate back into his quintessential form after a four-game hiatus due to a hamstring ailment. Book will look to get bucket-train rumbling fast and promptly in his team’s earliest start time of the year, while CP3 coaxes his way to a quiet, but invariable double-digit assist afternoon.

The Suns take down an undermanned Celtics regime 110-105.