Who: Phoenix Suns (16-15) vs. Orlando Magic (19-12)
When: 6:00pm AZ Time
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: 3TV and Arizona’s Family Sports
Listen: KMVP 98.7 FM
This isn’t the Orlando Magic team you are used to seeing.
Sure, they are young. They are the fourth youngest team in the NBA with a roster averaging 23.94 years of age. But their young core is learning to play together and, after increasing by 12 wins year-over-year between 2021-22 and 2022-23, they are on pace to win 50 games this season. Not bad for a team that won 22 games two seasons ago.
They’ve built their roster through the draft. Their starting five tonight will contain four players drafted by the organization, led by last season’s first overall pick in the NBA Draft, Paolo Bacnhero. Banchero has led (or tied) the team in scoring 11 times, rebounding nine times, and assists 11 times. He is averaging 21.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists.
He is a problem.
"They're elite offensive players. Even though they're young players ... they're doing it right now."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) December 30, 2023
Frank Vogel on Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner as those two combined for 61 points and 19 rebounds in Orlando's win Friday over Knicks.
Start 4-game road trip Sunday at #Suns pic.twitter.com/LS9JAfXSRo
When you play against young teams, the offense is typically their strength. With Orlando, however, it is their defense that is the backbone of their success and why they are the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. The team possesses the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, allowing just 110.6 points a night (which is 5th-best).
On the Phoenix side of the ball, we will once again see the Big Three back in action. Offensively, the team looked great in their recent victory over the Charlotte Hornets. The ball movement was crisp, Devin Booker excelled playing off ball, Beal and Durant are developing offensive sets and chemistry that will give opposing teams fits, and Jusuf Nurkic excelled in punishing the interior as a result.
The Suns’ defense? Well, that is another story.
Allowing 119 points to a team that has the fourth-worst offense in the Association? Not ideal. Sure, Scary Terry Rozier nearly had a career night — he was 2 points away from setting a career-high with 44 points — and was making ridiculous shots, but it is becoming a regular theme. Come! Play the Suns! Someone on your team will have the night of their life!
Hopefully Paolo, whose career high is 42 points (which he achieved earlier this month in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers), doesn’t add his name to list of elite performances against the Suns.
- Josh Okogie - PROBABLE (Right Ankle Sprain)
- Nassir Little - OUT (Left Knee Soreness)
- Damion Lee - OUT (Right Meniscus Surgery)
- Wendell Carter, Jr. - QUESTIONABLE (Right Knee Tendinitis)
- Markelle Fultz- QUESTIONABLE (Left Knee Tendinitis)
- Gary Harris - QUESTIONABLE (Right Calf Strain)
- Jonathan Isaac - QUESTIONABLE (Right Hamstring)
- Joe Ingles - OUT (Left Ankle Sprain)
What to Watch For
Orlando is a confident team. Under the tutelage of head coach Jamahl Mosley, this team put together a nine-game win streak earlier this season. We mentioned Paolo Banchero above, but Franz Wagner is an issue to defend as well. The 6’10” forward drafted 8th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft is a versatile player who attacks with his athleticism and length.
He is coming off of his best game of the season against the New York Knicks as he scored 32 points on 11-of-19 shooting.
The Suns will be continuing the integration of Bradley Beal into the fold as this marks the fourth game in which we’ve seen the Big Three perform. In their previous three games, totaling 44 minutes played together, the trio has a +18 +/- and the team scored 122 points while shooting 40% from three.
Following rumors of frustration, Kevin Durant has been on quite the heater. He tallied 11 assists Friday after 16 against the Houston Rockets, which marks the third instance of his career with back-to-back games with 10+ assists. He’s had a 6.75 assist-to-turnover ratio over those two games.
Key to a Suns Win
Like the obnoxiously piped-in chant at the Footprint Center, “DEFENSE. DEFENSE.” The Suns’ offense is growing together and putting up the points — 259 in their last two games — and will be able to keep up with anyone in the league. Orlando will be a test due to their defensive prowess, but the Suns are talented enough to get theirs.
Their defense? Phoenix has the 19th defensive rating in the league and allows the 14th most points at 114.6.
Orlando is the worst team in the NBA when it comes to a couple of perimeter-based metrics: last in three-point attempts (29.8), last in three-point makes (9.9), and last in three-point percentage (33.2%). If the Suns want to win, they need to ensure this trend continues but understand that the Magic will attack the cylinder. They are number one in free throw attempts (27.5).
Jusuf Nurkic must be smart with his fouls as the big Orlando frontline will be attacking him all night long.
Vibes are good right now in Phoenix. This game marks the second of a six-game homestand. The Big Three are back, the scoring droughts are occurring less, and Phoenix is looking to make a move in the standings.
Orlando will be tough. Make no mistake about it. But Beal, who only scored 6 points in his return against the Hornets, will be more comfortable tonight. I’m calling for five made Beal three-pointers and the Suns squeaking one out late.
Suns 117, Magic 114