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Game Preview: A pair of All-Stars lead the Suns into the ATL

Kevin Durant and Devin Booker made the All-Star Game. Trae Young did not.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Phoenix Suns (28-20) @ Atlanta Hawks (20-27)

When: 5:30pm AZ Time

Where: State Farm Arena, Atlanta, Georgia

Watch: 3TV and Arizona’s Family Sports

Listen: ESPN 620


The road trip continues and brings the Suns to the ATL for their first look this season at Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. Phoenix is entering on a two-game winning streak, having downed both the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets in their last two games. The Hawks are also on a two-game streak, beating the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers after losing their previous four games.

The Suns are led by the reigning Western Conference Player of the Month in Devin Booker, who sported a cool 30 points in January on 53.9/40/86 splits. He added 6.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds, which helped push him to being selected to his fourth All-Star Game.

The Suns went 12-5 in January.

The Hawks? January wasn’t as kind as the team went 6-8 in the month and are attempting to either figure out who they are or dish Dejounte Murray for assets and continue to focus on building around Trae Young instead. Young is a talent, there is no question about that. That talent led to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2021. Since then, however, the Hawks have had consecutive years being ousted in the First Round of the postseason, entering as the #8 seed (2022) and #7 seed (2023).

The 2023-24 Hawks have been a disappointment thus far, as Peachtree Hoops’ writer Wesley Morton observed:

It’s not a hot take to say this year’s Hawks rank among the biggest disappointments — both in terms of NBA teams this season as well as in comparison with recent Hawks iterations. The 2020-21 team similarly failed to launch in the first half of the campaign, culminating in the firing of head coach Lloyd Pierce, but this time around there doesn’t seem to be a second half surge anywhere on the horizon.

The tipping off of Year 2 of Dejounte Murray and (full) Year 1 of head coach Quin Snyder and his staff were thought to signal the start of a new era in 2023-24 — an era with a renewed focus on player development and analytical tools to gain edges around the margins.

But the Hawks are now 20-27 and clinging to a Play-In Tournament spot with a net rating that is tanking fast.

And so, it’s increasingly clear that this team just doesn’t have it.

This is a team that leaks points on the defensive end, maybe even at a historic rate. It’s a team with very shallow depth — one where a couple of injury hits to rotation players dooms the immediate and even long term chances at success. And most alarmingly, it’s recently a team with poor offensive spacing due to cold outside shooting, something that was long presumed to be a major strength.

That is who Phoenix is taking on tonight...a team that can bite you but lacks the venom for the kill.

Probable Starters

Injury Report

Suns:

  • Bradley Beal - AVAILABLE (Nasal Fracture)
  • Bol Bol - PROBABLE (Right Ankle Sprain)
  • Damion Lee - OUT (Right Meniscus Surgery)

Hawks:

  • De’Andre Hunter -QUESTIONABLE (Right Knee
  • Mouhamed Gueye - OUT (Back)
  • Vit Krejci - OUT (Left Shoulder)

Uniform Matchup

What to Watch For

Devin Booker & Bradley Beal versus Trae Young and Dejounte Murray.

Part of the reason it isn’t working in Atlanta is the Young/Murray combo isn’t cohesive. They are a net negative. Together, they don’t make the team better, which was the vision that the Hawks had when he pulled the trigger on the trade that brought Murray over from the Spurs.

When it’s Brad Beal and Devin Booker, albeit a much smaller sample size, the duo possess a 125.09 offensive rating and +9.29 net rating. So this is what we will be watching. Not the depth. Not the three-point shooting. The Trae/Murray vs. Booker/Beal battle.

Young might be carrying a chip on his shoulder in this one. He has twice been selected, in 2020 and 2022. But he is the leading “he got snubbed” this season, one that has him scoring 27 points and dishing 10.9 assists (a career-high).

Granted, he may find his way to Indianapolis as Julius Randle is hurt.

Key to a Suns Win

The Hawks are one of those teams that play with pace, ranking fifth in the league and the score they third-most points per game in the Association. We just witnessed the Suns play the top team in the NBA relative to pace and scoring in the Indiana Pacers, and the Suns kept up. Had they not had one of their typical self-induced explosions at the end of the game, it would’ve been a win. So we know they can keep up.

Atlanta allows the third-most fast break points in the NBA, permitting 16.9 a night. If the Suns want to get into run-and-gun mode, they can do it and they can win. Atlanta doesn’t stop the ball and with players who can attack on the level of Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, and Kevin Durant, this could lead to some easy points and quiet the crowd at State Farm Arena.

These also permit the third most points in the point at 56 per night. If the Suns do what they did against the Nets — if they make the adjustment and abuse the interior with Jusuf Nurkic — again, easy points. The Hawks are 29th in allowing points in the NBA, after all, so Phoenix should be able to get theirs.

What the Suns need to negate is allowing the Hawks secondary possessions. They’re the top team in the NBA in offensive rebounding, so Phoenix must attack the defensive glass to avoid the Hawks gaining confidence and momentum.

Prediction

Expect a game of runs in this one. But expect the Suns to identify areas to exploit and act accordingly. If they don’t fall apart in the fourth, they leave Atlanta with a win and a three-game winning streak.

Suns 131, Hawks 116

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