What: Phoenix Suns (25-25) at San Antonio Spurs (14-35)
When: 6:00 PM AZ time
Where: Alamo Dome, San Antonio TX
Watch: Bally Sports AZ
Listen: 98.7 FM
After a tough loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night at home, the Phoenix Suns make a quick trip to the Alamo for a roadie against the lowly Spurs who are going all in on their pursuit of the best lottery odds for the NBA Draft in June.
The Suns have won four of their last five games and are slowly getting healthy for the stretch run, though they are still missing four major rotation players including All-NBA guard Devin Booker (groin). Booker will be re-evaluated some time next week and all indications are that he will return to play sometime in the first week of February.
The Spurs have lost 12 of their last 14 games and could be missing a few rotation players themselves, especially young shooting guard Devin Vassell (knee).
The last time these two teams faced off in San Antonio, the Suns won by 38 points to improve their record to 16-7 and take the top seed in the Western Conference. Could a win over the Spurs tonight put a clean book end to the mini-devastation in the Valley in between these games?
Likely Starting Lineups
- Offense: 28th (110.5 points/100 possessions)
- Defense: 30th (120.0 pts/100)
- Net Rating: 30th (-9.5 pts/100)
The Spurs are doing very well this year, positioning themselves to start loading up with high draft picks again. They have an inside track to the best lottery odds at the #1 overall pick, which will be generational star Victor Wembanyama.
The Spurs are one of four teams, along with the Rockets, Pistons and Hornets, separating themselves from the pack as worst in the game. All four will get the best chances to win the top overall pick. The bottom three get the same exact 14% chance, while the 4th-worst team gets a 12.5% chance and the 5th worst (currently Orlando) gets a 10.5% chance.
Getting through the season, now, is just a formality.
Their best player, Keldon Johnson, is getting a lot of reps as a primary scorer and leads the team with 21.5 ppg on poor efficiency (43% FG, 34% 3s), while pulling down 4.8 rebounds. The second-best, maybe best one day, is the currently injured Devin Vassell who is putting up similar numbers to Johnson on better efficiency, including 40% on threes. Next up is rookie Jeremy Sochan, questionable for the game tonight. Sochan, a 6’9” forward, was taken 9th last year by the Spurs, their highest draft pick since taking Tim Duncan #1 overall in 1997.
Those players profile at best as good starters on a good team, but not All-Star let alone the superstar of the future. That’s why they are tanking full-out for a top pick this year.
- Offense: 14th (113.6 points/100 possessions)
- Defense: 10th (112.2 pts/100)
- Net Rating: 11th (+1.4 pts/100)
The good news is that Chris Paul is getting back to being Chris Paul. In his first 26 games, across two stints separated by the month-long foot soreness, Paul averaged a forgettable-for-him 13.1 points (42% FG, 39% 3s), 8.3 assists, 4.2 rebounds.
But in three games since returning, he’s looked much healthier and back to his old self, averaging 19.4 points (53% FG, 47% 3s), 10.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds.
The problem, though, is that the Suns just aren’t the Suns without Devin Booker. Paul is a lot like his old self, but there’s just something missing in the rotations when he’s got to do all the work all the time. Mikal Bridges has improved his ball handling, but he’s no Book. Deandre Ayton was out for Paul’s first two games back, and then missed 15 of 21 shots in his return. While Ayton posted 19 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and blocked 2 shots, even he said he had a bad game and should have played better.
In January (13 games) the Suns have the 3rd-ranked defense but an abysmal 30th-ranked offense. Since Paul returned (3 of the 13 games), that’s improved slightly. Over the three games, the Suns have the top ranked defense and 20th ranked offense. Better, but not good enough.
We’ll see how the Suns respond after a terrible effort on Thursday. Head coach Monty Williams was as frustrated as I’ve seen him this year after a game, calling out his team for not caring as much as the other team in going after the ball, and specifically calling out the backups for low game plan awareness.
Tonight gives the Suns a chance to get right, playing a team that really doesn’t want to win the game if they don’t have to.
Sure, bad things could happen to the Suns. It’s a road game, and the Suns are only 7-17 on the road this season. They’re also not very good against bad teams, currently just 10-9 against teams with a losing record.
And they’d better hope it’s not a close game, considering the Suns are just 8-13 in the clutch this year (games within 5 points in the final 5 minutes), including 3-8 in games with a final score decided by 3 points or fewer, and 0-3 in overtime.
But then again, it’s the Spurs here. Remember, they don’t really want to win if they don’t have to.
I’ll predict a road win for the Suns, 119-100.