What: Indiana Pacers (16-20) at Phoenix Suns (25-11)
When: 8:00 p.m. MST
Where: Phoenix Suns Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona, NBA League Pass
Listen: 98.7 FM
Betting line: Suns are getting 7 points, ML is Suns -280
Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker is probable with a left knee injury, Cameron Johnson is still out in the health and safety protocol
Indiana Pacers: Caris LeVert is set to make his debut for Indiana after successful surgery to remove a cancerous spot on his kidney
Projected starting lineups
Suns: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Frank Kaminsky, Deandre Ayton
Pacers: Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Holiday, Doug McDermott, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner
25-11; No. 2 in the West
116.5 ORtg (7th) - 109.7 DRtg (6th) = plus-6.8 netRtg (3rd)
Most important from a Suns perspective tonight is Booker, who is probable despite banging his left knee yet again in Portland on Thursday. Despite Paul telling reporters that he didn’t expect Booker to play in the game, Booker did, and scored 35 points on excellent efficiency in the process.
As long as Booker plays, the Suns should be in a good spot. They are winning without asking for much scoring out of Paul or Ayton, and their bench is back to being the huge advantage it was in December and January.
What I’m watching in this one is how Ayton plays against the big and dominant Pacers front line. He and Saric both had nice nights the last time these teams met, using their physical advantages to keep Indiana off the boards for the most part and speed past them to score. Twice in the past two weeks, Monty Williams has opted to close games with Saric at center, and it’s something to keep an eye on as the season comes to a close.
Williams clearly knows it’s something he may have to go to in playoff games and wants to dust it off now, but he also has to know that making Saric his go-to closer could raise some eyebrows around the league and affect Ayton’s confidence. Against Indiana, which plays so big, it’s going to be a particularly intriguing subplot.
16-20; No. 10 in the Eastern Conference
110.9 ORtg (19th) - 111.6 DRtg (12th) = minus-0.7 netRtg (17th)
This game might have some extra viewers despite not being on national TV, as LeVert’s return marks an incredible step in the right direction for his health as well as the first chapter of a new era for the Pacers. If Indiana is to rediscover its early-season form, it will need LeVert to be a go-to scoring option as well as a strong perimeter defender, filling if not improving on the role Victor Oladipo played.
As Caitlin Cooper recently documented at Indy Cornrows, the Pacers’ offense has really sputtered since the team traded Oladipo, as they are also still without Jeremy Lamb and TJ Warren as well. That effectively means Brogdon is the only perimeter play-maker in the rotation, and his strength has never been explosiveness or, for that matter, elite passing.
There’s only so much Sabonis can do on his own.
It’s hard to say how much LeVert might play, since he basically announced his return himself and the coaching staff has been mostly mum on the topic, but fortunately the injury was not basketball-related, so that could be good for his ability to get back up to speed quickly, provided his conditioning cooperates.
The Pacers are quite beatable right now, so even if LeVert looks good in his return, this should be a win for the Suns.
At home again, with everyone healthy and the team as a whole finding its groove, the Suns have no reason to lose tonight. Without Oladipo, Indiana has nobody athletic or forceful enough to guard Booker (though Holiday will do his best), and even if the bigs do their thing, it’s just hard to imagine Indiana’s basically bottom-ten offense matching the Suns’ unit, which has been top-five in March.
Suns 115, Pacers 100