The Detroit Pistons will play their sixth and final game of an exhausting west coast swing tonight against the conference-leading Phoenix Suns.
Each side will be without key players from their rotations a season ago. The Suns have been without starting duo Chris Paul (heel) and Cameron Johnson (knee) since Nov. 8 due to injury. While the Pistons will suit up without the services of Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and potentially Killian Hayes. Hayes has been listed as questionable for tonight’s clash after exiting with a left calf injury in Wednesday night’s win over the Jazz.
Even with the horrible injury luck, the Pistons have managed to remain competitive in all five games of their west coast trip, collecting a pair of much needed victories in their most recent outings.
Though the 11-6 Suns reside at the top of the Western Conference, they aren’t the fortified juggernaught of prior years. If Detroit can bring the similar intensity as previous nights, there’s a chance they could return home with an unlikely .500 split of the aforementioned torrid road trip.
When: 9 p.m. ET
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, Arizona
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons +12
3 Things to watch for:
1, Kevin Knox
Kevin Knox has been superb in his last three contests. The former lottery selection has scored season-highs in a trio of consecutive games, culminating in a 21-point outing against the Utah Jazz on Thursday night.
Bey’s ankle injury against the Los Angeles Lakers opened up rotation minutes for Knox and the 23-year-old has taken full advantage of the opportunity. In 24 minutes, he’s averaging 16.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in the three games Detroit has been without Bey.
While the scoring numbers are a positive, Knox’s rebounding and defensive activity has been equally important to the team’s recent success. Even if he’s prone to a mistake here and there, his 6-foot-9 frame and willingness to go all out has helped him recover after errors.
He still has a ton to prove before being proclaimed a successful reclamation project, but Knox has certainly earned himself rotation minutes for the foreseeable future.
2. Booker’s brilliance and Bridges’ offensive evolution
With injuries to Paul and Johnson, Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges have shouldered the scoring load for the Suns. Through 17 games, the wing duo are the Suns first- and second- leading scorers, each averaging career highs in points per game. Booker with 27.4 points and Bridges 16.3 points a night.
Per Cleaning the Glass, lineups featuring Booker and Bridges are outscoring opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions. While Booker has continued his dominance as a mid-range assassin, Bridges has altered his attacking approach for season number 5.
The Villanova product is currently attempting career highs on shots at the rim and in the mid-range. And though his percentages from these areas are slightly down, he’s still converting at above league average clips.
The offensive package Bridges has built far exceeds what a typical ‘3&D’ player exhibits. As the 26 year-old enters the infancy of his prime, he’s set himself up to be one of the leagues true two-way stars.
In their first two seasons with Monty Williams as coach, the Phoenix Suns were a bottom-10 offensive rebounding team, with Williams prioritising transition defense over second chance points.
So far through his third year at the helm, Williams appears to have flipped his scheme, imploring his players to crash the glass following team-mates misses. Per NBA.com, the Suns currently rank 6th in the league for offensive rebounding percentage, collecting a third (31.5%) of all available offensive boards.
Suns Center, Deandre Ayton predictably leads the team with 2.8 offensive rebounds, but their rangy-wings, Bridges and Craig, have been flying in from the perimeter to gather misses. The wing paring are both averaging over 1 offensive rebound each at the moment.
This kind of rebounding presence could spell trouble for a Detroit team which ranks 26th in the NBA for defensive rebounding. Inserting Duren into the starting line-up could make sense for tonight. Even though he’s defensive rebounding has lacked at times, Duren provides a more imposing interior presence than the slighter Marvin Bagley.
Coach Casey has shown increased trust in Duren of late, running with the 19 year-old as the closing big in the Pistons past two outings. Maybe tonight he elects to start Duren?
Detroit Pistons (5-15)
Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Livers, Marvin Bagley III
Phoenix Suns (11-6)
Cameron Payne, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Torrey Craig, Deandre Ayton
Question of the Day
Does Cameron Johnson do anything for you as a restricted free agent?