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Preview: Suns face off against East-leading Nets in primetime

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Kevin Durant projects to be back for this one

Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (42-17) at Brooklyn Nets (40-20)

When: 12:30 P.M. MST

Where: Barclays Center

Watch: ESPN, NBA League Pass, Bally Sports Arena

Listen: 98.7 FM


Any time that the Phoenix Suns play basketball on ESPN is a moment worthy of preserved cherishing.

Suns Nation has been long deprived of primetime game slots, and the team’s miraculous bubble stretch — plus the arrival of Chris Paul — has them sitting pretty as one of the association’s top commodities.

And now, they have a real chance to usurp the Jazz for the West’s standalone alpha spot. Utah though, has one of the easier upcoming stretches opponents-wise as it clings onto regency with its lethal spider (Donovan Mitchell) sidelined. Phoenix meanwhile, sports one of the toughest upcoming slates league-wide, including the Knicks and Clippers in succession.

But the mayhem of the quest to the top starts in several experts’ predicted title town: Brooklyn, New York.


Projected Starting Lineups

Suns

Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Deandre Ayton

Nets

Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Jeff Green, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan

Injury Report

Suns

Abdel Nader: knee - Out

Jae Crowder: ankle - Out

Dario Saric: ankle - Out

Langston Galloway: personal reasons - Out

Nets

Keys to the Game

The Slim Reaper:

The man they call the “slim reaper” needs no introduction. And quite frankly, his probable introduction into the Nets’ starting lineup Sunday will elicit unsettling emotions of an incongruous level within the Suns’ troupe.

Of course, no NBA player wants to see their fellow brethren sidelined by the injury bug — but no unit wants to game plan for a man oozing with the type of natural talent, length and dexterity that Kevin Durant possesses. It just so happens that Phoenix will likely be the first team that sees his return.

Durant was playing basketball at an astronomical level, and cemented his name in numerous MVP dialogues, with 27.3 ppg on the best shooting clip of his career (54.3%) as he began a majority of the season with Kyrie Irving’s backing.

The trio of Durant, Irving, and James Harden has yet to see substantial minutes together, but still, Durant and Irving present a nightmarish one-two combo to try and defend.

Deandre vs. DeAndre

Deandre = Deandre Ayton. DeAndre = DeAndre Jordan. Aside from a few stark differences — one spells his name with a capital “A”, while the other’s is lowercase; one is a lefty, the other shoots from the right side — these two men have games that are comparably similar. Both are glass-cleaning machines, able to eat up any wayward-sailing shot at a moment’s notice. Both are athletic freaks with knacks for catching and finishing lofty lobs and devastating put-backs inside. And both are ready shot-blockers who have no problem sending your attempt into the third row.

The Nets are an absolute offensive juggernaut on nearly every area of the floor, but most of their lethality comes from outside the paint area. Which of course, is where Deandre Ayton holds the majority of his territory. And the Suns expect Ayton to be the supreme Deandre in this matchup — with legs far fresher than his big-man counterpart that will allow him to run the floor and tread to the perimeter for pick & rolls, plus a steady-polishing midrange game that will force Jordan to fend him off from 11-15 feet.

CP3 vs. Kyrie

And last, but certainly not least, the battle of the point guards only swells the intrigue of this matchup.

Kyrie Irving’s been on an offensive tear without his big-three running mates in good health, and his efforts have been a central factor in their ability to continue winning games. His performance against Boston epitomized that perfectly. He shot a miserable 4-19 from the floor, but recorded 15 points, 11 assists and nine boards to spark his team’s victory.

Meanwhile, his team knocked down over 70% of the dimes he doled out in the second half. It’s long been deeper than the stats for Uncle Drew.

CP3 knows a thing or two about winning plays. He continues to light up the stat sheet every night as he races up the all-time assists leaderboard. But Paul’s brought so much more than meets the eye to this relatively young group. And if anyone knows how to conjure up Irving’s antidote, it’s Paul. It won’t be through his fleet-footedness, or blatant athleticism either. No one thinks the game like he does, and whosoever one-ups his opponent in this legendary matchup directly increases his team’s chances of winning.

The Verdict

Phoenix is eager to amass another notch in the win column after an ugly collapse against Boston. They’re going to come out with tons of vigor in what will be a playoff-like atmosphere,

The Suns jump out to an early lead in a similar fashion to their last affair with Brooklyn, but the Nets’ grit and talent will see them through in the long run. Brooklyn comes back for the final blow — as Durant scores 20+, and Kyrie does the same with at least 10 assists — to eke out a slim win, 106-103.