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Preview: Suns host Bucks with bitter taste still fresh

Devin Booker, Chris Paul face the only team with a win-streak against them

NBA: Finals-Phoenix Suns at Milwaukee Bucks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What: Milwaukee Bucks (35-21, 2nd in East) at Phoenix Suns (44-10, 1st in West)

When: 8:00 PM AZ time

Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, Arizona

Watch: TNT

Listen: 98.7 FM Arizona Sports

Here we go! The first matchup between last year’s NBA Finals participants since the Bucks closed out the Suns in Milwaukee to win the NBA Championship. Sorry folks, I had to write it. I don’t make the rules.

Are the Suns keyed up for a rematch against a team with a 4-game win streak against them?

“Nah. Everybody else will put something extra on it,” Devin Booker said. “It’s a rematch of the Finals...

“But it’s not the Finals.”

The Suns can say all they want in public, but you can bet the Suns players and their home fans are going to be hyped up for the rematch. Yes, it’s only regular season, but it’s the BUCKS — the only team that got the best of the Suns in the past two years.

Both teams are a little banged up, but they each appear ready for another run to the Finals again. The Bucks are 2nd in the West while the Suns are rolling hard through the regular season to get that top seed again and home court advantage in all rounds.

Let’s get you ready.

The Suns are back to their best starting lineup, hopefully for a while after mixing and matching half the schedule to date. The Suns starting five has only been together for 27 of 54 possible games so far this year.

The Bucks are mixing and matching too, having tried 23 starting lineups in 56 games.


Phoenix Suns — still missing the same guys: Cameron Payne (wrist), Landry Shamet (ankle), Frank Kaminsky (knee), Abdel Nader (knee) and Dario Saric (knee). On the radio Wednesday, James Jones said that Shamet was closest to coming back, probably before the All-Star break. He said Payne would be post-All-Star (late February). None of the others are on a close timeline.

Milwaukee Bucks — have only two injuries at the moment but one is a big one. Brook Lopez (back), the key to allowing Giannis to play forward, has missed all but one game this year and has timeline to return. Greg Monroe has recently been signed as a big, after they tried DeMarcus Cousins earlier this year. The other injury is George Hill (neck).

What’s different with the Bucks since the Finals?

They still have the Big Three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. That’s really most of the story here.

A few things have changed around them, but not many. The biggest one I already mentioned: Brook Lopez has been out all year with a back injury. P.J. Tucker, a key to their defensive intensity, is also gone to Miami as a free agent.

Bobby Portis is getting more minutes, putting up career highs across the board with 28.7 minutes, 15.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and .8 blocks per game. He’s shooting 42% on 4.2 threes per game too. Watch out for Bobby. He’s more than just a big pair of eyeballs these days.

Another big change is the emergence of Grayson Allen. Watch out for him — just last week he yanked Alex Caruso out of the air with both arms.

The big problem wasn’t the initial foul. It was the second-arm swing through to pull Caruso all the way out of the air. Allen was only suspended one game for the foul, while Caruso’s season is over.

Watch out for Bucks fans too, who have been vehemently defending Allen’s honor on this foul as just a good basketball play. Uh huh.

Allen has been having a good season with the Bucks, adding to their plethora of similar shooters in Allen, Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo. Allen is putting up career highs of his own with 28.2 minutes, 11.7 points (39.4% threes), and 3.5 rebounds per game.

Add those two to the Big Three of Giannis, Middleton and Holiday and you’ve got a very dangerous Bucks lineup.

Suns Update

Shamet and Payne are coming back soon, but not in time for the Bucks game. They are each progressing and will get back into game shape soon to be activated either right before or after the All-Star Break (Feb 17-22).

Today is trade deadline day, so you might see the Suns make a trade. Won’t be a big one, probably, but James Jones on the radio Wednesday did leave the door open for a move around the edges. He’s willing to trade a draft pick to close a deal.

“I’m not afraid of making moves and trading draft picks. Eventually draft picks have to become players,” he said. “If you have to trade a pick to get a player, you do it. We did it with Chris, we’ve done it many times. That’s not what holds you up.”

By his comments, he’s clearly looking to make a deal of some sort, but the demand is high while the supply is low.

“What holds you up is that we have 20 teams that are trying to make the playoffs,” Jones said. “We have six to eight teams who really believe they have a shot at winning the title and that’s what they’re going for. It’s one of those things where in order to acquire players, you have to get that player from some team that doesn’t want a good player. And we all know how that works in this business — it’s extremely tough.”

He also says that every move will be made with the long term in mind.

Stay tuned, Suns fans!

No matter what happens in trades, the Suns will play the Bucks on Thursday night in front of a sellout crowd in the rowdy confines of Footprint Center.

I think the Suns will pull out a win, and then downplay it afterward.

Prediction: Suns win 115-108.

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