Playoff basketball is officially back in the Valley for the first time since 2010 and it still feels surreal. Not only are the Suns in it, but they have a team good enough to win it all if things go their way. It’s going to be a battle from the start.
The Suns are set to battle the 7th seed Los Angeles Lakers after their victory over the Warriors in the play-in game last night. Phoenix is 2-1 against the Lakers this year, but neither team was at full strength for any of those matchups.
Be sure to check out our very own Dave King’s playoff primer for more playoff outlook coverage. Now, let’s dive in.
#1: Which bench players make the playoff rotation?
Let’s assume the Suns starting lineup is Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and Deandre Ayton for now because even if the lineup is altered for matchup-based reasons these five are locks to get significant playing time. Will they boast an 8, 9, or even 10 man rotation?
Cam Payne seems like a lock to get minutes. Torrey Craig will play. Dario Saric will get a chance, and it’s hard to imagine Cam Johnson not getting some minutes if he’s available. That puts us at a 9-man rotation. Since they are playing the Lakers it’s likely we’ll also see some Kaminsky minutes to match their size, especially if Ayton hits foul trouble or Saric is off.
Monty has shown the ability to adapt as the season went on, and they didn’t show much against the Lakers during their May 9th meeting in Los Angeles. My bet is they roll out a full 10-man rotation, but will cut it down to 9 depending on who is hot and who is... not.
#2: Which Dario Saric will we get?
Dario Saric’s play is going to be the X-Factor for Phoenix during this playoff run. He’s had an absolute rollercoaster of a two-year stint in Phoenix mixed with many highs and lows. If they can get him to regain that bubble form of his for the playoffs it would be a very much welcome sight, especially against a big Lakers frontcourt.
Dario Saric career playoff stats: (10 games played)
32.9 MPG- 17.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.5 APG on 42/38/85 shooting splits at age 23 for the Philadelphia 76ers.
#3: What is the health status of Cam Johnson and Deandre Ayton?
During media availability on Tuesday, Monty Williams said he expects both Johnson and Ayton to play and that statement was echoed by James Jones on 98.7 FM on Wednesday afternoon. Ayton himself said he’s going to be ready for the playoffs and that his knee feels good in practice.
Let’s hope they are both at 100%, especially Ayton because of the workload he’s going to take against a deep Lakers big-man rotation. I will be keeping a close eye on Ayton’s movement and confidence with that sore knee.
#4: How will they be officiated?
This is an important factor to consider for a younger team with limited playoff experience, especially when you consider the lack of calls they received throughout the year. LeBron and company will control the refs, that’s a given. They’re just going to have to overcome that aspect of the game and outplay the Lakers by that much more.
We’ve seen games where Deandre Ayton gets in foul trouble against bigger teams and the lack of prototypical big man depth has hurt Phoenix. Ayton’s foul count will be a make-or-break storyline to follow.
#5: Who will take the last shot? Who is the closer?
Having two closers/shot creators on your team is always a good thing, and the Suns’ backcourt has done a terrific job of balancing these duties throughout the year after some growing pains the first 18 games or so.
The playoffs are another animal though, and it will be interesting to monitor which of Paul or Booker decides to close games out or create shots when they need them most. Who do you want to take the last shot? Comment below with your pick.
The Suns will need to bring the physicality and show they aren’t afraid right from the start. Bully ball if you will. Do not let the Lakers smell blood on that front.
Ultimately, I believe Monty Williams will have this team well prepared mentally and from an X’s and O’s standpoint. The Lakers better bring their A-game, because this team is going to be a handful.