When: 5:30 p.m. AZ Time
Where: FTX Arena, Miami, Florida
Watch: Bally Sports Arizona/ESPN
Listen: 98.7 FM
And then there were 17 games left in the season…
The countdown to the postseason is upon us and with every passing game, the Phoenix Suns are closer to locking up the #1 seed in the Western Conference. While victories make you feel good inside, it is time that the Suns are battling most of all. Only time will bring Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Cameron Johnson back into the lineup. Only time will allow them a chance until they can defend their Western Conference crown.
Time has appeared to bestow us with a Booker return on Wednesday night, as reports are that he is headed to Miami after clearing health and safety protocols.
First broken by Flex.
Book has cleared H&S protocol. I fully expect him to play tomorrow vs Miami.— FLEX From Jersey (@FlexFromJersey) March 8, 2022
Then confirmed by AZCentral’s beat writer Duane Rankin.
Following a three-point win on Tuesday night in Orlando, the Suns head down the Florida turnpike to South Beach to play a confident and cohesive Miami Heat team. Despite being without their stars for large portions of the season, the Heat find themselves atop the Eastern Conference. Kyle Lowry (missed 17 games), Jimmy Butler (missed 20 games), and Bam Adebayo (missed 25 games) are surrounded by a capable cache of weapons, including Sixth Man of the Year front runner Tyler Herro, sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, and friend-turned-foe PJ Tucker.
The task ahead of the Suns to leave Miami with a win in their pocket and finish the road trip 2-1 will be tough. But if your sole focus is finishing the season with the #1 seed, a victory might not be needed. Per PlayoffStatus.com, Phoenix enters the evening with a >99% chance of accomplishing that goal. Miami, however, enters with a 90% chance of doing so in the east.
Probable Starting Lineups
- Dario Saric (knee) is OUT
- Frank Kaminsky (knee soreness) is OUT
- Chris Paul (thumb) is OUT
- Cameron Johnson (thigh contusion) is OUT
- Markieff Morris (started a fight he couldn't finish) is OUT
What to Watch For
Miami is coming in full force as all of their heavy hitters are active and ready to square off against the best team in the NBA. Tyler Herro dropped 31 off of the bench on Monday night against Houston and his idol Devin Booker is in town. He’s always up for showing his abilities off when he knows Booker is watching.
The Heat lead the league in 3PT%, making 37.6% of their shots from beyond the arc, all while averaging just the 14th most attempts in the league. To say they are “snipers” is an understatement. Expect threes-a-plenty against the Suns, a team who has permitted the opposition to shoot 36.5% from deep since the All Star break.
The main reason to watch this game? Ayton vs. Bam. Bam Adebayo, the athletic 5th-year big from the University of Kentucky, is typically the best comp in the league for what Ayton could be. He has a high motor and is averaging 18.8 points and 10.3 rebounds this season. Ayton is averaging 16.6 points and 9.7 rebounds — a career low — this year.
Deandre gets up for games against tough opposing centers, and in their five career matchups, Ayton has the edge. Per LandofBasketball.com:
The Suns will need to see Robo-Ayton in this matchup considering how much firepower is sitting on the bench. Is it a “must win” for Phoenix? No. But the one thing that has been missing from Deandre’s performances this year is consistency. He dropped 30 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Do it again, DA. Do it again.
The Heat have won 16 of their last 18 against the Suns, including 12 straight from January 8, 2010 to January 2, 2017. That isn’t the most one-sided run in the history between the teams, however, as Phoenix ran off 16 straight against the Heat from January 7, 1989 to December 8, 1995.
In fact, the win for the Heat on December 9, 1995 was their first ever win over Phoenix in their franchise history, as the Heat joined the NBA for the 1988-89 season. The leading scorer for the Heat in that 94-92 win? You guessed it. Sasha Danilovic. It was his career high.
Keys to a Suns Win
Rebounding. Period. Exclamation point.
The Heat allow the fewest opposing rebounds in the league (41.7 per game) and, since the loss of Chris Paul, the Suns average 37 per game (before the Orlando game). That was last in the NBA.
Ayton in that time is averaging 6.5 rebounds compared to 10.3 pre All Star break and that's with MORE minutes. The effort just hasn't been there for him on the boards and since the Suns have very few other rebounders, it makes a huge difference. https://t.co/6No6qm4xoB— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) March 8, 2022
Rebounding matters and we’ve seen what not being aggressive on the boards can do. The Suns, who allowed 13.1 second-chance-points-per-game prior the All Star break – 16th most in the league – have allowed 15.7 since the break. That’s 5th most in the league. It’s a recipe for disaster if the Heat are permitted to earn second-chance points, especially if that occurs following a missed three-pointer (which, as stated above, they don’t do often).
Of course, it’s not all on Ayton. The Suns have been trying different defensive schemes, as outlined by our own Dave King yesterday, that often has DA out of the paint on the perimeter when the opponent shoots. The whole team needs to improve their rebounding, and they did just that against Orlando on Tuesday (52 rebounds).
If the Suns can dominate the boards, or even have an edge, they stand a chance in this one.
I just don’t see a win coming tonight for Phoenix. All of the odds are stacked against them. Second night of a back-to-back. On the road. Missing their All Star point guard. Missing their sharpshooting phenom. Heck, Vegas knows it. The odds for the game, per DraftKings, currently sit at Miami -310, and the Heat are 7 point favorites.
I’m going against the odds on this one, however. Although everything says the Heat will win, the Suns have a way of punching fate in the kisshole this season
Suns 118, Heat 115