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Game Preview: Suns host Thibs, Randle’s Knicks, looking for 51st win

Phoenix Suns are looking for their 51st win of the season tonight against the New York Knicks.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

What: New York Knicks (25-37) at Phoenix Suns (50-12)

When: 8:00 PM AZ time

Where: Footprint Center

Watch: ESPN, Bally Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM

The Line: The Suns are currently 7 point favorites on Draft Kings Sportsbook. The over/under for the game is sitting at 223.


Projected Starters

Injury Report

Phoenix

  • Chris Paul — OUT (thumb)
  • Devin Booker — OUT (COVID Protocols)
  • Frank Kaminsky — OUT (knee)
  • Dario Saric — OUT (knee)

New York

  • Quentin Grimes — OUT
  • Derrick Rose — OUT

Knicks Update

Remember when their coach, Tom Thibodeau, won the Coach of the Year award by voting media over Monty Williams (whose Suns were 51-21) last year because he turned the Knicks into a mid-pack playoff team with a 41-31 record?

Remember when Julius Randle was named second-team All-NBA by voting media at the same time Devin Booker (whose Suns were the league’s second-best team) was left off the three All-NBA teams entirely?

Yeah, those salad days are gone for the Knicks.

Monty might still not win COY again this year, and it’s possible that Booker might still not make All-NBA, but the Tom and Julius award show has taken at least a one-year hiatus.

The Knicks 25-37 record isn’t terrible, but they are in a bad way right now. The Knicks have lost six straight games and 16 of 19 overall. They don’t have a deep injury list. It’s that their offseason free agent spending went in all wrong the directions.

Thibodeau’s scheme is defense-first, offense-second, yet they spent money on Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker to be their new starting back court. Walker is now coming off the bench in lieu of veteran shooting guard Alec Burks.

The Knicks last six losses are to tough teams for the most part: Sixers (2), Heat, Nets, Thunder and pre-deadline-dump Blazers. The Suns can’t just show up and expect to win the game, especially being down All-Stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker.

Suns Update

Yes, the All-Stars are still out. Book might be back early as end of next week, but don’t expect to see him earlier than that.

That leaves Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet as the starting back court again, with Cameron Johnson coming off the bench to balance out the starters/bench scoring.

Payne had a very nice game running the team (8 assists, 2 turnovers) in only 20 minutes of play in his first game in 6 weeks, with new acquisition Aaron Holiday filling in the rest of the point guard minutes (9 assists, 4 turnovers in 27 minutes). Overall, the Suns had 32 assists on 40 made baskets in a nice 30-point win over the uber-tanking Blazers.

“He’s a got a different speed and ability to get into the paint and agitate, he can find guys,” head coach Monty Williams said after the game. “It was just good to have another ball handler on the floor. It just settles our team in many ways, it settles the rotation and his ‘juice’ is something that we saw in the bubble when we first got him.”

Cam couldn’t make a shot (missed 6 of 8) but his speed and energy were at full-tilt and that energized the team on both ends.

“It was a different maker for us and he was just talking on defense and it was just good to have him back out there,” Williams said. “Cam brings a level of energy to the team that’s really good for us.”

“From the get-go you knew Cam (Payne) was lit,” center Deandre Ayton said. “In the locker room he had us going. He just came out with pace, that’s Cam. You just got to run with him, and he got us going early, everyone early.”


Stat to know

The Suns now have a 7.5 game lead over the next best team in the league. Former Bright Side contributor and current host of the The Timeline podcast shared this:

Sure, sure, the other teams’ playoff rosters might look different than they do right now, which is contributing to the Suns runaway lead. The Warriors might have Draymond Green and the real Klay Thompson back in flow. The Nuggets might have Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back. The Clippers might have Paul George and Kawhi Leonard back. The Lakers might have Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook back.

I believe the Suns are better than all those teams. But we won’t know until we actually KNOW.

The playoffs can’t get here soon enough.


Prediction

I predict the Suns get another sellout to make it 20 straight — their longest streak since the SSOL days.

I also predict the Suns win No. 51 over a struggling Knicks team. Even with their All-Stars out, the Suns know how to play team basketball and win games.

Suns win, probably by 10-15 points.


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