When: Oct. 31 — Halloween!! — at 7:00 p.m. AZ time
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: Arizona’s Family 3TV
Listen: ESPN 620 AM (because of the D-backs World Series Game 4 taking priority on 98.7) or on 98.7 HD-2
Though most of the Valley sports world will be focused on what’s going on just a block or two away at Chase Field, there’s plenty of intrigue in this Suns game as well.
For example, the Suns will look to start their first win-streak of the 2023-24 season coming off Saturday’s blowout win over Utah. It also may mark the return of Devin Booker, who’s doubtful with a left ankle sprain after missing the previous two games.
While the Suns have had the Spurs’ number in recent years, winning the last nine matchups, three of the last six have been decided by five points or less. This streak — which most recently included a 115-94 win in April — goes against the ways of old, where the Suns historically struggled mightily against San Antonio in the playoffs.
This is, of course, a very different Spurs team than recent years thanks to the added juice of Victor Wembanyama. Over his first 81 minutes in the Association, “Wemby” is averaging 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game, shooting 44.7% from the floor and 23.1% from three.
Naturally, as any 7-foot-5 player would, Wemby takes up a ton of space on the court, and the Suns will have to be mindful of him whenever he’s out there. He’s not the only one to worry about though, as Devin Vassell is off to a great start in his fourth year.
Vassell, who the Suns could’ve (and by my estimation should’ve) taken in the 2020 NBA Draft, was selected one pick after Phoenix took Jalen Smith. Looking like a prime candidate for Most Improved Player, Vassell is now averaging a career-high 20.7 points on a career-high 55.0% from the floor.
Aside from Wemby and Vassell, the Suns will also have to gameplan for Zach Collins, a former teammate of Jusuf Nurkic in Portland.
Suns: Devin Booker (left ankle sprain) is doubtful. Bradley Beal (low back spasms) and Damion Lee (right meniscus surgery) are both out.
Spurs: Sidy Cissoko (G-League assignment), Sir’Jabari Rice (two-way), and Charles Bediako (two-way) are all listed as inactive.
(via NBA Lockervision)
What to Watch For
While the Suns are coming off their 22-point win over the Jazz and are probably feeling good about where they are all things considered through three games, the Spurs are coming off a 40-point loss to the Clippers, and are probably wanting to pivot back to the right direction.
As is always the case when facing the Spurs, Phoenix has to be mindful of the coach on the opposite sideline, Gregg Popovich. Wemby, Vassell, and others — including Keldon Johnson, who was on the Tokyo Olympic squad with Booker and Durant, coached by Popovich — have given new life to a Spurs organization that seemed dead in the water for a few years there.
Funny enough, the two offenses have performed almost identically from a points-per-game and field goal percentage standpoint...
PHX: 109.7 ppg on 46.4% shooting
SAS: 109.3 ppg on 46.4% shooting
...but the Suns separate themselves defensively...
PHX: 102.7 ppg allowed; 100.7 defensive rating
SAS: 123.7 ppg allowed; 115.6 defensive rating
Suns should be able to bake their bread offensively but need to lock in defensively and prove that they are the top five defense that their defensive rating would have you believe they are.
Keys to a Suns Win
Booker getting the green light sure would help, but without him, it would likely come down to which pair of seven-footers plays better: Durant and Nurkic or Wemby and Collins?
Suns showed the type of grit they have up and down the roster on Saturday when they battled all the way down to the final buzzer, regardless of the score. My favorite example of that was this near-40 second possession in the fourth quarter:
this was a wild possession for the suns vs jazz. insane hustle by the second unit while up 26; too bad it never turned into points. the grayson allen mid air decision to pass to the missed goodwin three is probably the coolest part. pic.twitter.com/eMheKT2b63— Damon Allred (@iamdamonallred) October 30, 2023
Spurs have some good players, but make no mistake: if the Suns play like this hard for 48 minutes again, there’s not really anything up in the air about this matchup.
Booker doesn’t go, and it doesn’t matter. Suns win 129-106.