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Game Preview: Suns host Trail Blazers in Ayton’s first return to the Valley

Will we see Booker try to posterize Ayton?

2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Who: Phoenix Suns (7-6) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (3-10)

When: Tuesday, Nov. 21 — at 7:00 p.m. AZ time

Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: AZ Family 3TV

Listen: 98.7 FM

A game that started with many fun storylines is now much less cool thanks mostly to injuries, but the biggest one of all remains: the return of Deandre Ayton.

But even that is a bit muted due to Ayton’s general ineffectiveness in Portland relative to his Phoenix career, averaging a career-low (by more than 2.0 points) 12.2 points to go with his second-best 11.0 rebounds per game.

While this won’t come as a surprise to Suns fans, it’s still bizarre: Ayton has just nine free throw attempts over 13 games and over 400 total minutes. No starting center has ever finished a season averaging fewer than one free throw attempt per game.

To find a historical comp (that I’m sure at least Ayton would appreciate), this is Shaq vs. Kobe for the first time back on Christmas Day at Staples Center in 2004 (a feather in the cap of the 2004-05 schedule-makers, by the way).

Shaq had a respectable 24 points and 11 rebounds with three blocks in that game, which would be a good night for Ayton to match. Kobe, however, had 42 points and six assists, which would be good for Devin Booker to match if not for the nine turnovers and 2-point loss.

While it would be really cool to see Booker take out what may be years worth of frustration and hang a big night on Ayton’s head, it’s easily more important to get the Suns their fourth-straight win no matter how they get there.

Probable Starters

Devin Booker, Grayson Allen, Eric Gordon, Kevin Durant, Jusuf Nurkic

Skylar Mays, Shaedon Sharpe, Jerami Grant, Toumani Camara, Deandre Ayton

Injury Report

Suns: Jordan Goodwin (jaw contusion) is AVAILABLE. Bradley Beal (low back spasms), Damion Lee (right meniscus surgery), and Yuta Watanabe (left quad contusion) are all OUT.

Blazers: Malcolm Brogdon (left hamstring strain) is QUESTIONABLE. Scoot Henderson (right ankle sprain), Anfernee Simons (right thumb ligament tear), Robert Williams III (right knee ligament tear), Ish Wainright (left knee MCL sprain), and Jamaree Bouyea (two-way) are all OUT.

Uniform Matchup

What to Watch For

Ayton’s not the only Sun returning. Toumani Camara and Ish Wainright make their first regular season appearances at Footprint since their departures with the caveats that Camara never made a regular season appearance as a Sun and Wainright won’t play tonight due to an injury.

As a starter over his last four games, Camara is averaging 6.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.0 steal in 24.5 minutes per game. He’s without question the quickest second-round rookie to become such a rotational staple.

Shaedon Sharpe is another storyline not yet touched by injury. The Canadian native finished his high school career in Glendale at Dream City Christian before going on to Kentucky where he more-or-less redshirted for his lone season before getting drafted top-10.

Booker, noted Kentucky alumnus, took notice of Sharpe at Kentucky and maybe even at Dream City, and the two have a relationship. Sharpe is due for a good game, scoring just seven points in the Blazers’ 43-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

Keys to a Suns Win

On the note of the Blazers coming off a bad loss, I’m always weary of teams in spots like that where their backs are against the wall and they need to make something happen. Especially considering that the Suns are coming off their own hard-fought, 2OT win and have another game tomorrow right after this.

This is, of course, an In-Season Tournament game, and the purple El Valle court will be in full effect. With the Suns sitting at third in their group with a neutral point differential, this is a must-win game to stay alive for the NBA Cup.

Phoenix pretty much has to blow out the Blazers tonight and the Grizzlies on Friday, then hope that the Lakers can do them a favor in blowing out the Jazz.

It’ll likely take another Herculean dual effort from Booker and Kevin Durant, who’s posted near-40-point triple doubles in back-to-back games.


Bring a high level of effort for 48 minutes and this one should be in the bag. Portland is a far inferior team even if they weren’t missing the pieces they are.

Suns win 120-104

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