What: Cleveland Cavaliers (25-15, 4th in West) at Phoenix Suns (20-20, 7th in West)
When: 6:00 PM AZ time
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: Bally Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM Arizona Sports
Can you believe the Suns are still the 7th seed in the West despite losing 13 of their last 17 games? Such is life in this year’s Western Conference.
How you see these standings is an ‘eye of the beholder’ thing. The Suns are closer to 13th in the West than they are to the conference lead.
Only six wins separate the 3rd to the 13th seeds in the West, with the Suns smack dab in the middle of that group.
What happens in the next 2-3 weeks while they try to get healthy will give clarity on whether the Suns should be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline.
And that starts tonight.
Probable Starting Lineups
Suns: Chris Paul (hip) is QUESTIONABLE, Devin Booker (groin), Cameron Johnson (knee), Cameron Payne (foot) and Jae Crowder (duh) all OUT
Cavaliers: Darius Garland (ankle) is QUESTIONABLE, Dean Wade (shoulder) is OUT
- Offensive Rating: 113.9 (10th)
- Defensive Rating: 109.1 (2nd)
- Net Rating: +4.8 (3rd)
If you’re looking for cracks in the Cavs armor, they are only 7-11 on the road this season and have lost 4 of their last 7 games overall.
But they’re healthier now, with Garland and Mobley back from missing a couple of games, and come into Phoenix with a major advantage over the Suns in that they don’t have any real rotation players out of commission. Garland is listed as questionable, but he played 33 minutes in their last game after missing the Suns game in Cleveland.
The Cavs are coming off a butt whupping in Denver, partly due to their best player Donovan Mitchell sitting out. He is not on the injury report and will play against the Suns tonight.
Unfortunately for the Suns, the Cavs have one of the league’s best defenses and employ a twin towers starting lineup with seven-footers Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley manning the paint.
- Offensive Rating: 114.6 (7th)
- Defensive Rating: 112.2 (12th)
- Net Rating: +2.2 (9th)
These are season-long numbers for the Suns over 40 games. Squint, though, and you’ll see the league’s 26th ranked offense and 18th ranked defense over their last 15 games (4-11 record).
The defense has recovered a bit lately after ranking as low as 29th for the month of December. That’s thanks to posting a 106 defensive rating in three January games so far, and a good sign for a team struggling to find good signs.
The offense has fallen off a cliff though. The Suns have failed to top 104 points in any of their last 5 games, all losses, after posting back-to-back games of 125 points against conference leaders Memphis and Denver and spending most of the season in the top 3 of league offenses.
Some of that road-trip fatigue, some of that is injuries, and some is simply the ups and downs you get when the bulk of your offense relies on jump shots. Our own John Voita did some research...
Suns drive the ball 41.5 times a game (6th worst in the NBA), have a 45.3 FG% when they do (3rd worst), and average 22.3 points on drives (3rd worst).— John Voita (@DarthVoita) January 8, 2023
Not surprisingly, they attempt 5.4 FTA as a result of their drives (4th worst).
Without Devin Booker’s occasional drives into the teeth of the defense, the Suns are pretty much limited to jumpers and Ayton post ups. And when the shots aren’t falling, the offense goes down the drain.
Mikal Bridges took it upon himself to drive hard to the paint on Friday, ending up with a career-high 10 free throws for his trouble, while Ayton produced 20 points in the paint (23 overall). But that didn’t break the seal on the Suns offensive doldrums. It comes down to the jumpers, folks.
Let’s see if the Suns can make their threes again today.
A Suns win would be a major upset. We can be cute and predict the upset, but don’t put any money on it.
Chris Paul is questionable with a hip strain. Whether he can go or not, the Suns only other option at point guard is Duane Washington Jr., who missed 13 of the 18 shots and helped the Suns commit 8 second-half turnovers (3 of his own), though he did dish a team-high 7 assists in the loss. Pray for DWJ to hit more shots and commit less turnovers in this one.
If I had to make a prediction, I’d predict a Cavs win, 115-105.