Phoenix (4-4) are 4-1 under interim coach Jay Triano and are seeking their third win on this five-game trip after rallying from 22 points down to post a 122-116 victory at Washington on Wednesday night. T. J. Warren scored a career-high 40 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for the Suns, who have averaged 113.0 points since Triano took over following the firing of Earl Watson.
Watson has been on a tear the last four games, scoring 24.8 points per game on 59.4 percent shooting while also pulling down 8.3 rebounds per contest. In the five games the small forward has taken at least 12 shots, he’s averaging 24.6 points, but only 7.0 points in the games he attempts 11 or fewer.
New York (3-4) were denied a fourth straight victory Wednesday night after losing 119-97 at home to Houston. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 23 points and Kristaps Porzingis added 19, but the Knicks struggled defensively and allowed the Rockets to hit 19 3-pointers.
Jeff Hornacek’s team has been unable to consistently defend on the perimeter as the Knicks were 24th in 3-pointers allowed with 92 through games played Wednesday. New York also have issues holding onto the ball, giving up a league-worst 23.4 points per game off turnovers.
Three keys to the game
James at the point for the Suns - An NBA rookie but a veteran of European leagues, Mike James has brought a stability to the young Suns which has been valuable both on this trip and overall since the suspension of Eric Bledsoe. James is shooting just 39.6 percent and averaging 13.2 points and 4.8 assists in five games since Triano put him in the starting lineup, but he also has a 2.00 assist-to-turnover ratio in those games. The Suns are also plus 5.2 in scoring when he is on the court in that span, so it's less about James getting points and more about winning basketball.
Feast or famine Porzingis - Porzingis has five 30-point games this season but failed to crack 20 points in the other two. It's not a coincidence that New York's two largest losses have come in those two games. The 7-foot-3 power forward is making the jump to be among the NBA's best, but the Knicks don't have a consistent supporting cast yet to survive those nights Porzingis has an off game.
The Suns bench burns bright - Wednesday's win marked the first time under Triano the Suns did not have a reserve player score in double figures, but they did have 33 points. Whether it's Josh Jackson, Tyler Ulis, Alex Len or Dragan Bender, Triano has a rotation he trusts that doesn't have much falloff as the Suns rank 14th in bench scoring at 36.4 points per game.
Matchup to watch
T. J. Warren vs. Tim Hardaway Jr. - If the Knicks are going to start a pair of 7-footers in Porzingis and Enes Kanter, that leaves Hardaway, normally a shooting guard, at a disadvantage trying to guard the taller and heavier Warren. Hardaway is New York's No. 2 scorer behind Porzingis at 15.6 points per game but is shooting a career-low 38.1 percent. Warren is shooting 58.0 percent on shots from 14 feet and closer (47 for 81), but getting the better of this matchup may mean more face-up shooting to prevent New York's "Twin Towers" from helping Hardaway defensively in the low post.
Phoenix Suns projected starting lineup
PG - Mike James | SG - Devin Booker | C - Tyson Chandler | SF - T. J. Warren | PF - Marquese Chriss
New York Knicks projected starting lineup
PG - Jarrett Jack | SG - Courtney Lee | C - Enes Kanter | SF - Tim Hardaway Jr. | PF - Kristaps Porzingis
Devin Booker could be a good pick for points as he's averaged 22.8 points in four lifetime games versus the Knicks while shooting 43.5 percent (10 for 23) from 3-point range. In his two games at Madison Square Garden, Booker has scored 47 points on 18-of-36 shooting, including 6 of 10 from beyond the arc.
Porzingis had 48 points in his two games versus Phoenix last season, hitting 19 of 36 shots. It's also important for him to keep attacking the basket if his shot isn't falling. Porzingis has made 39 of 47 from the line and is averaging a career-high 6.7 free throw attempts, nearly double his 2016/17 total of 3.8 per contest.
The Suns have had the upper hand when it comes to betting in this rivalry, winning six of their last seven against the spread in New York and going 9-2-1 in the last 12 meetings head-to-head. Phoenix have covered in all five games since Triano took over and have hit the number in eight of their last nine games against Atlantic Division opponents. The Suns feel like a high-value pick as five-point underdogs given how the Knicks struggled against a smaller, faster team like the Rockets last time out and that ex-Knick Tyson Chandler is savvy enough to keep Phoenix's spacing on the offensive end.
Usually, the bounce from a coaching change would have ended after the third game, so the fact the Suns are still playing well heading into game six under Triano and on the road while without one of their top scorers from last season means they have found something. One thing is getting Warren more shots to take the offensive burden off Booker. But the bigger thing may be how Triano has created a ten-man rotation while keeping Phoenix's up-tempo pace.
Though rookie and fourth overall pick Josh Jackson is struggling from game to game, letting him come off the bench may be a long-term plus. Ulis keeps the energy going at point, and Alex Len gives them scoring in the frontcourt off the bench. New York struggled against Houston when stretched defensively, and either Porzingis or Kanter are going to be left on an island against this smaller team. Look for the Suns to continue their winning ways with a 107-99 victory.
This game is being televised locally on Fox Sports Arizona and MSG Network. Tip-off time is 7:30 pm ET.
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