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Preview: Suns battle gritty Spurs in push for West’s top seed

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Suns fans - let this sentence sit in your mind: your team has a real chance to be the best in the West

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (40-15) vs. San Antonio Spurs (26-28)

When: 7:00 P.M. MST

Where: Phoenix Suns Arena

Watch: NBA League Pass, Bally Sports Arena

Listen: 98.7 FM


Buckle up. It’s always a whale of ride whenever the San Antonio Spurs come galloping into town. Phoenix and San Antonio have been a part of some legendary battles throughout both franchise’s storied histories, and tonight’s matchup should add another wild entry on to the long list of madness.

The Spurs, on one hand, are far from their glory days, as most of the men responsible for the team’s illustrious success have graduated from the playing ranks and moved on to other life exports. The one steady that remains: Gregg Popovich, who’s enough of a prevailing force to keep the unit playing quality basketball no matter who it deploys on any given night.

Phoenix on the other hand, has enveloped into of the best collective squads the Valley has ever seen. Chris Paul’s addition couldn’t have been more invaluable, and James Jones has hand-crafted a well-oiled machine that expects nothing less than deep postseason success.

Their eyes are zoned in on the prize, but they’ve got a few more business endeavors to take care of in the regular season before they can shift to playoff mode. And right now, the Spurs represent public enemy numero uno.

Projected Starting Lineups

Suns

Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton

Spurs

Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Demar Derozan, Jakob Poeltl

Injury Report:

Suns - Abdel Nader: knee - Out

Spurs - Trey Lyles: ankle - Out


Keys to the Game

DA:

The acronym “DA” is beginning to signify a lot of things for the Phoenix Suns. “Disruptive authority” and “deadly ammunition” are just two of the adjectives that come to mind when delving through Deandre Ayton’s recent outings. But perhaps even more apropos than the prior two may be “deficient antidote”, because teams have utterly been unable to conjure up adequate means of slowing him down. Ayton’s provided PHX with 19 PPG, 10.4 REB and on a marvelous 78.3% shooting clip from the floor through his last five.

His most recent performance was the premier point on the pentagon as he continues to stamp home the worthiness of his long-term regency within the city. Ayton put up 26 points, collected 11 boards, and posted his best game score of the season, all while missing just one of his 11 field goal tries.

Whatever formula Chris Paul’s been slipping into DA’s pre-game drinks requited magnificent results, and if he keeps playing this way, Ayton’s opponents will be marked with another acronymic label before he even steps foot onto the hardwood - DoA - dead on arrival. Look for him to continue his dominant reign tonight.

The Bench:

Did I already mention James Jones’ brilliant management wizardry? His ability to construct a roster may be better than his knack for knocking down 3-balls back in the day, which is definitely saying something.

Cam Johnson has comfortably transitioned into a capable scoring role, and he’s continuing to show that he doesn’t always need a setup dime to get to a bucket. Meanwhile, as Monty Williams plays tic-tac-toe with the X’s and O’s he can deploy on any given night, several bench role-players have shown they have what it takes to incite damage on opposing foes.

Cam Payne is THE bench point guard the Suns need, and his speed and versatility gives Phoenix the perfect lightning to complement Chris Paul’s starting thunder. Jevon Carter remains encapsulant of the “junkyard dog” nickname that’s become his bearing crest. He’s already displayed a lockdown on-ball aptitude on defense, and his scoring deftness is visibly trending upwards. These two men will be critically important to the Suns’ faring while CP3 takes his breathers.

DD:

And of course, last but not least, when you play the Spurs, you’ve got to stop Demar Derozan. Now, DD is not the stalwart that carried the Toronto Raptors to multiple deep playoff runs a few years back, but he’s still one of the more capable off-ball guards in the association. And playing with Gregg Popovich has unlocked an entirely new level of calculated mental treachery that he can exact on opposing defenses.

He’s done just that. His bread-and-butter midrange game remains fresh as ever, and despite losing a step athletically, Derozan is usually one step ahead on the floor based on his basketball IQ alone. That dexterity has been on full display as he’s led the Spurs in scoring through three of their last four, including a 33-point, eight assist night against the Mavs that he topped off with a vintage step-back game-winner.

Stop Derozan, and PHX increases its winning chances tenfold.

The Verdict

The Suns will be kicking themselves all the way back to the locker room if they don’t blast the Spurs by at least double-digits. And I think they’ll muster exactly that.

Chris Paul knows Popovich well, and his veteran leadership should provide Phoenix with an indefectible formula for victory. Ayton posts another double-double, and gets his first 30-ball of the season, while Devin Booker hands out at least five assists to go with his usual 20-point stat-sheet. Phoenix knocks off San Antonio 124-113.