When: 5:00 PM AZ Time, Sunday
Where: Charlotte, NC
Watch: Bally Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
The Phoenix Suns suffered their worst-looking loss of the past two months on the morning of New Year’s Eve, getting down by 30 points (65-35) in the first half to a Boston team on a three-game losing streak. All-Star guards Devin Booker and Chris Paul were really bad, combining to shoot 31% from the field while taking 40% of the team’s shots.
“We’ll be better next game,” Devin Booker promised, after the loss.
They will have to be, or an ugly losing streak could be in the offing. The Suns have lost 3 of their last 4 games with the only win coming at home against a lottery-bound Thunder team missing four starters.
The Hornets, meanwhile, have won three straight even while still dealing with COVID issues and will represent a huge challenge for the Suns on Sunday. They will be well-rested, not having played since Wednesday night in a win over the Pacers without Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington (COVID).
Probable Starting Lineups
- OUT with H/S protocols are Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee, Jae Crowder, Abdel Nader
- OUT with injury are Frank Kaminsky (knee), Dario Saric (knee), Chandler Hutchison (knee)
- OUT with H/S protocols are Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, Scottie Lewis
Three straight wins (Nuggets, Rockets, Pacers) have them feeling better about their playoff contender status and back into 7th seed in the East. They have suddenly gotten stingy, playing the league’s 2nd best defense in their last three games after ranking 28th on the season overall.
In general, the Hornets score a lot — the league’s 2nd best offense, behind only the Jazz — and give up a lot of points. They simply just want to get in a track meet.
The Hornets have 5 players averaging 16.4 or more points, including former Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. with his blond hair and unique play style. The ‘Tsunami Papi’ has had a resurgent season in Charlotte with season averages of 16.4 points (45/37/65 split), 3.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.2 steals and .3 blocks — looking a lot like the guy who helped restart the Suns franchise a couple of short years ago.
They have the second most efficient offense in the league, led by second year point guard Ball. If the Suns don’t play some defense, this one could get ugly.
“We’re going through a funny stretch right now,” Booker said the other day.
Since losing at relatively full strength to the Warriors on Christmas Day a week ago, the Suns have been ravaged by COVID. By Friday, they were down to Jalen Smith, Emanuel Terry and Ish Wainright as their only ‘big’ men and the defense suffered terribly. Hours later, they signed long time veteran center Bismack Biyombo to help shore up the back line.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Suns failed to step up this week. Instead they’ve all collectively gone into a funk that reminds us more of 2018 than 2021. Of the whole group, only Cameron Johnson is playing well. Against the Celtics, Cam extended his career-long streak to 15 straight games of scoring 10+ points and has made at least two three-point field goals in 18 straight games, the 2nd-longest streak in the NBA this season and currently the longest active streak in the league.
Jalen Smith, now the starting center with all the COVID and injuries, is having the best stretch of his whole career, averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds and a block in the last three games.
That’s about all that’s going well right now.
They’re going through a funk, all right. Let’s see how long the funk lasts. For sure, the front line will remain short handed for at least the Charlotte game, if not longer than that.
Prediction? I’ll pass
I don’t have a good feeling about this one. The Suns will need a big performance from their All-Star back court to win in Charlotte.