No Beal. No Westbrook. No Bryant. No problem?
What: Phoenix (7-3) @ Washington Wizards (2-8)
When: 5:00 p.m. MST
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, DC.
Listen: 98.7 FM
The Suns find themselves in a similar situation as they did when the traveled to Detroit. On paper, they are the superior team. The Wizards (2-8) have had tough go of it to start the season. A cocktail of defensive woes and injuries hasn’t gone down smooth for those who root for the team from The District. Although the team has the offensive firepower to hang with anyone, their inability to make stops has equated to a hangover of losses.
The team, like Detroit was when the Suns landed at Wayne County Airport in Detroit, is the ‘least in the East’; they have the worst record in the NBA.
Phoenix enters the affair 7-3 and seeded as the #2 team in an explosive Western Conference. Following a hiccup in the Motor City, the Suns TCOB’d (that’s ‘took care of business’ for those who are acronymically challenged) against a talented Indiana Pacers squad. Their 125-117 victory displayed the growth of Mikal Bridges and the focus of Devin Booker.
Again, on paper, this should be an easy victory for Phoenix. As I stated following the loss to Detroit, however, we don’t live on paper.
Probable Starting Lineups
Game 11 of the season and we’ve yet to see the purple Icon Edition jersey. Phoenix will once again don the white Association Edition uniforms.
Washington, one of the two teams Michael Jordan played for, will sport the jersey with his likeness upon it as they wear “The District” Statement Edition threads.
- Cameron Payne (doubtful/ankle)
- Jalen Smith (health and safety protocols)
- Russell Westbrook (quad, day-to-day)
- Bradley Beal (health and safety protocols)
- Thomas Bryant (ACL, out for season)
The Wizards are a team that, following the offseason splash trade of John Wall for Russell Westbrook, is learning how to play together. Unfortunately as they are attempting to develop team chemistry and continuity, the injury bug has struck. Hard.
Thomas Bryant was injured during the team’s Friday night game against Miami.
Washington Wizards C Thomas Bryant has suffered a torn ACL to his left knee, source tells ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 10, 2021
Phoenix faithful may remember the night when Bryant achieved his career high in points, scoring 31 points on 14 for 14 shooting in a triple OT game a couple of seasons back. Bryant’s 20.5 points-per-game and 12 rebounds-per-game against the Suns are his best vs. any one team; 4.5 points better than his 16 vs. Milwaukee and 2 rebounds better than his 10 vs. Denver.
Bryant’s loss will be felt as the 4th year center was averaging a career high in points (14.3), FG% (64.8%), and 3PT% (42.9% on 2.1 3PA). His 71.4% from 2PT leads the NBA. Washington will replace his 27.1 minutes-per-game with former Phoenix Sun Robin Lopez.
Bradley Beal will not suit up against the Suns either as he has entered health and safety protocols.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 9, 2021
Beal and Bryant are responsible for 38.4% of the Wizards offense.
Don’t expect Washington to lay an egg offensively, however. Without Beal and 0 points from Bryant prior to his injury, the team poured in 124 points in a loss to Miami on Friday night. Granted, they will be without 9-time All Star Russell Westbrook.
The Wizards and Heat tied the record for most combined points ever in a 1st quarter (91) on Friday night. This occurred three nights after the Wizards and 76ers combined to set the record for most points scored in the second quarter (92).
Plenty of offense, not a lot of defense. Washington is 2nd in the league in points-per-game (119.7) while playing at the fastest pace in the Association (106.7). Conversely they given up most the most points-per (122.7) and most FTA (29.5). The Wiz get to the line often as they are third in the league in FTA-per-game (26.5) led by Beal’s 9.6.
First year head coach Scott Brooks hasn’t unlocked victories as of yet. After starting the season 0-5, Washington’s two wins came in succession. They defeated the Timberwolves by 21 and the Nets by 1. Since the two victories the team is on a three-game skid. The team is 0-5 at home.
Rookie Deni Avdija from Israel has started all 10 games of the season for the Wizards at small forward and has flashed a fluid shooting motion. Avdija has hit 45.7% of his 3PA (16-35 on the year). Much akin to Rui Hachimura, the young player could be the cornerstone of future teams in the nation’s capital.
Expect to see plenty of the Wizards bench in this game, including prized free agent reacquisition Davis Bertans and his flame throwing three ball.
Ish Smith, who played with Phoenix in 2013-14, has averaged 20.6 points-per-game in 19 career games against the Suns. Expect to see him take it to the rim a la Cameron Payne. Raul Neto, Troy Brown; the Wizards have plenty of professional scorers waiting on deck to come in and put points on the board.
Phoenix is finishing their Eastern Conference swing and looking to improve to 5-2 on the road. The schedule increases in difficulty following this game; the next 7 are vs. Atlanta, Golden State, Indiana, @ Memphis, @ Houston, Denver back-to-back. A focus similar what they displayed in Indiana needs exist.
The Suns continue to develop their offensive strategies. Are they a three-point shooting team? Is the pick-and-roll their core? Do they feed the ball inside and look to facilitate from there? In short, yes. Phoenix has a unique offensive versatility that can be hard to defend. If one aspect of their offense isn’t working, they can morph into something else.
Mikal Bridges is coming off a career best 34-point performance. His offensive game has developed leaps and bounds year over year. If he continues to display the ability to score and defend, his comparisons to Scottie Pippen will be justified.
For more on the Suns, check these over the last couple of days:
Keys to a Suns Win
The team that started the season giving up the fewest points-per-game has allowed 113.5 over the last two. The Wizards can score. Will the Suns 6th rated defense be able to stop Washington’s 11th rated offense? Plain and simple, that is the key to victory.
Play your game, not theirs.
With Thomas Bryant sidelined, the Wizards are hurting at the 5. Robin Lopez and Mortitz Wagner will anchor the interior. This could be a monster game for the Suns’ most polarizing player, Deandre Ayton. Will he take advantage of the paint touches that will be provided to him? Will he dominate the boards against a team that is 29th in total rebounding?
Deandre Ayton is 2nd in the NBA in Paint Touches per game (11.6)
He is also 2nd in the NBA in Paint FG% (68.3%)
*Min. 6 Paint FGA/gm pic.twitter.com/dqHlIP4gBE
— evan (@evxz17) January 11, 2021
Focus. I’ll say it again: focus.
The Suns, if they want to walk shoulder to shoulder with the tops tiered teams in the league, shouldn’t “play to the level of their competition”. Impose your will, deploy your game plan, and TCOB.
Deandre Ayton goes for 20 points and 18 boards, Suns win.
Suns 122, Wizards 111