When: ***EARLY TIPOFF*** 1:30 PM AZ Time
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: Bally Sports AZ
Listen: 98.7 FM
Betting line: DraftKings has the Suns a 6-point favorite today
The Phoenix Suns are 0-3 against the Eastern Conference so far this season, but all those were on the road. In the past two weeks, the Suns have lost at the 76ers, Magic and Heat but they finally get a chance to face an Eastern team at home where they are 7-1 on the season so far.
And it’s the Knicks. You know these guys.
The last Suns-Knicks game was March 4 where, without both Devin Booker and Chris Paul, the Suns needed Cameron Johnson’s career high 38 points, including the game winning nearly-half-court three as time expired. Johnson suffered a deep thigh bruise in that game, missed a month and never was quite the same again. But THAT game, he was absolutely marvelous.
Now the Knicks, with Julius Randle still in tow, return to the scene. This time, there’s no Cam Johnson to save the Suns, but they do have this guy named Devin Booker.
- UPDATE — Knicks: Cam Reddish (groin, has not missed a game yet) is OUT, Mitchell Robinson (knee, has missed last 8 games) are AVAILABLE
- Suns: Chris Paul (heel, has missed 5 games), Landry Shamet (concussion, has missed 4 games), Cameron Johnson (knee, has missed 7 games) and Jae Crowder (taking selfies, has missed all 15 games) are OUT
Since we last saw the Knicks, they’ve added Jalen Brunson to their roster. You know Brunson from cooking the Suns in the playoffs last year. The Knicks gave him more than $100 million, and now he’s setting career highs in minutes (32.7 per game) points (19.6), assists (6.8) and steals (1.3), though he’s only shooting 30% on threes and 47% overall.
The Knicks now have three $100 million players in their lineup with Brunson, R.J. Barrett and Julius Randle, but they have not quite figured out how to maximize their talent yet. They are 8-8 so far, which is okay, but they’re net rating is all the way down at 24th (out of 30). How is that? Mostly because their wins are closer than their losses. The opposite of the Suns, for the most part.
The Knicks best wins of the year have come in the last week, beating the Utah Jazz 118-111 and the Denver Nuggets 106-103. The Nuggets were playing without MVP Nikola Jokic. Their other wins: Pistons, Magic, Hornets (no Ball), 76ers (no Embiid or Harden), Timberwolves (no Gobert).
Players to watch:
- C Isaiah Hartenstein is like a better Jock Landale. He hustles hard and is always in the right place at the right time. Deandre Ayton will have to be dialed in.
- PG Jalen Brunson obviously knows how to beat the Suns and is crafty enough to have a big game
- PF Obi Toppen has started playing well this year (9p, 4r) as a very poor man’s John Collins. He could get a couple nice dunks.
Still no Chris Paul (sore right heel). In his place, Cam Payne has been playing really well. His three-point shot has returned and he’s been an effective whirling-dervish in the lineup. He’s now averaging 20.0 points and 5.8 assists in his five starts this season after averaging 14.0 points, 9.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds in 12 starts during the 2021-22 season.
The Suns starting lineup is still bad with Payne and Torrey Craig in there for Chris Paul and Cam Johnson, sporting a -17.7 net rating on the season in a team-high 113 minutes together since CP joined CamJ on the injured list.
Over the last two games, though, they’re at least really good offensively and finally got in the black with a +1.2 in 38 minutes. That’s good because there’s no real replacement for Payne till CP comes back, and swapping out Craig for Damion Lee has its own -15 net rating in 10 minutes of play together.
Overall, the Suns are 2-4 without CP if you include the 76ers game he left in the first half with the injury.
Bottom line: the Suns really need CP back. Unfortunately, he’s not making a lot of progress with that sore right heel. Head coach Monty Williams said after practice Saturday that the Suns are being very cautious and won’t let him play until he’s 100%. Note that Damian Lillard left last night’s Blazers game after re-aggravating a strained calf that caused him to miss almost 2 weeks already this year.
What I don’t understand is how bad the defense has been for this starting lineup, which would rank DEAD LAST in the league by a wide margin, projected over 48 minutes. Payne is at least a passable defender and Craig is widely considered a better defender than CamJ. What gives? The Suns have played good D without Chris Paul before. I think they have just lost their defensive principles lately and need a practice like Saturday’s to rediscover them.
Oh, and they’ve been awful in the clutch. Check out Trevor’s story on this, from last night.
Ahh man, there’s a lot of variables here. It’s an afternoon start, six hours before they’re used to starting, so who knows which team will be sharp throughout the game. Their daily routines will be all messed up.
Still, the Suns are the better team — even without CP, CamJ, Shamet and Crowder — and are at home, so I’d expect a Suns win.
Both the Suns and Knicks have been bad on defense lately, but the Suns offense is cooking lately so that probably separates the teams today.