What: Brooklyn Nets (27-16, 4th in East) at Phoenix Suns (21-24, 12th in West)
When: 8:00 PM **LATE START**
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
Listen: 98.7 FM
Have the Phoenix Suns hit rock bottom, and now it’s time to start the climb back up? Getting a couple of important players back from injury can only help.
Starting forward Cameron Johnson returns to the Phoenix Suns lineup tonight for the first time in over two months after recovering from a torn meniscus. It’s possible he will be joined by Chris Paul (hip) too. Both participated in full practice yesterday, though the public message on Cam was “available” while the message on Chris was “questionable” for tonight’s game. Neither will be at optimum performance on day one of their returns — Cam will need time to trust that knee and get back to game shape, while Chris’ is a case of pain management — but their mere presence could balance the Suns offense in a way that makes them more successful.
With so many injuries impacting the Suns, they have fallen way down to 12th in the Western Conference standings after holding 1st place as recently as December 6, just six weeks ago. That’s what losing 18 of 24 games will do to you.
Much of the time has been dealing with incredibly impactful injuries. The loss of All-Star and MVP candidate Devin Booker (hamstring, groin) has been the biggest problem, but the Suns have also been missing up to 6 of their best 8 players at a time.
- Torrey Craig and Damion Lee have played the 3rd and 4th most minutes for the team this season — career-wise they are 8th-most on their teams, at best
- Ish Wainright and Duane Washington Jr., the Suns 15th and 16th-best players, have appeared in the same number of games (55 total) as All-Stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker (55 total)
The Suns need to get right, but they keep taking steps sideways instead of forward. While CamJ (now) and CP (soon) will be welcome additions, a couple new names popped onto the injury report — Landry Shamet (foot soreness) and Josh Okogie (nasal fracture) are now OUT now for Thursday’s game.
The Nets, meanwhile, will come to Phoenix without their best player, MVP-candidate Kevin Durant, who suffered a knee sprain (MCL) last week and will need a few more weeks to recover. The Nets have lost three straight, by an average of 10 points, since Durant went down.
Probable Starting Lineups
**UPDATE: Paul is OUT (hip). No idea who starts in his place.
- Suns: Cameron Johnson (knee) is PROBABLE, Chris Paul (hip) is
QUESTIONABLEOUT, Devin Booker (groin), Cameron Payne (foot), Josh Okogie (nasal fracture), Landry Shamet (foot) and of course Jae Crowder (ego) are all OUT
- Nets: Kyrie Irving (calf soreness) is PROBABLE. Kevin Durant (knee) is OUT.
With Shamet joining the others on the injury report, I’m not sure where the Suns will get any ball handling if Chris Paul (questionable) can’t play. Without their best ball handlers — Paul, Payne, Booker and Shamet — we might be stuck with another round of ‘cross your fingers and hope for a good Duane Washington Jr. game’!
Duane Washington Jr. has had his extreme ups and downs this season, to say the least. In the last 14 games when he’s been pressed into service in the wake of Chris Paul and Cameron Payne injuries, Washington has put up 13 points in 18 minutes per game in a wildly weird shooting profile: he’s drained 39% on 5 three-point shots, but only 36% on 8 two-point shots per game over that time. Running point, he’s averaged 3.6 assists to 1.9 turnovers. That’s almost 2:1 ratio, but it’s clear that when he’s pressed hard he doesn’t have enough decision-making in place to survive. He’s been at his worst against starting caliber players.
So Monty Williams has turned to 10-day signee Saben Lee in recent games, putting him immediately into action the day he put ink to paper. In three games, he’s played 15, 13 and 28 minutes. He hasn’t taken many threes, but he’s aggressive, made 7 of 13 shots inside the arc and has drawn 16 free throws in those three games while averaging only 1 turnover.
“Looking for something different,” Monty Williams said of giving Lee so much run so quickly. This isn’t a dig on Washington, per se, but the Suns have been sorely lacking in drawing fouls and THEY HAD LOST A BILLION GAMES IN A ROW. Why not try something different?
Hopefully, Chris Paul plays against the Nets tonight. Otherwise, it will be the Duane/Saben show and, well, that’s not very promising.
Kevin Durant is everything to the Nets, but even KD needs a good second guy and health through the rest of the roster. With him and Kyrie Irving and the others — including T.J. Warren — in place, the Nets climbed up from 11th place (7-9) on November 15 all the way up to 4th place by December 7 (14-12) and then to 2nd place by Dec 28th (23-12). That’s a 9-spot climb in only 19 games!
The Nets remained in 2nd place for the next three weeks until BAM there’s another injury. Durant suffered a knee strain three games ago, and now his team has lost 3 straight. The Nets were also without Kyrie Irving in a Tuesday night 18-point loss to lowly Spurs.
Let’s talk a non-KD player for a minute. You all remember T.J. Warren? Yeah, he’s playing basketball again!
After missing two full years of games, Scorin’ Warren finally took the court again and is rounding back to his old form. He’s played in 19 of the Nets last 20 games, and over the last 10 he’s putting up 12.6 points on 51% shooting (35% on threes) and grabbing 3.8 rebounds in 24 minutes per game off the bench.
Others who have stepped up with KD out include Seth Curry (16.7 points over last 3) and Cam Thomas (15 points).
In the middle the Nets have had a really good season from Nic Claxton. He’s undersized and doesn’t do much outside the paint on either end, but he gives them some rim protection they otherwise sorely miss.
One final note: Ben Simmons has not stepped up in KD’s absence, at least in scoring. He’s only scored 5 points per game on 30% shooting. He is dishing 12 assists and pulling down 9.5 rebounds at least.
Both teams are on a 3-game losing streaks, missing their best player and seeing their second-best player on a day-to-day status.
If Chris Paul plays, I think the Suns win this one. If Paul doesn’t play, it’s gonna be another crapshoot on who plays like they need this win the most.
Hoo boy. I’ll say the Suns win this 115-105.