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Nets look to start new streak Sunday against (tired) Suns

The winning streak has ended. The Nets pushed it all the way up to seven games, but the Pacers were able to shut down the offense and got a bunch of shots they just weren’t missing and the Nets lost. It wasn’t a bad loss, and the Pacers are a better team. Was it frustrating? Just ask Kenny Atkinson. But overall, the loss was not devastating.

The Suns are up next, who were on a four-game win streak of their own until they went down to the Wizards, 149-146, in a triple overtime game Saturday night. Brooklyn beat Phoenix pretty handily earlier in the season 104-82, but Phoenix has begun to find its stride and Devin Booker has been red-hot since returning from injury. They won’t be the pushovers we saw in November. Let’s get into it.

Where To Follow The Game

YES and WCBS 880 have this one at 6 pm, ET. Early weekend start! Not late enough for Phoenix though.

Injuries

Caris LeVert (leg), Treveon Graham (hamstring), Allen Crabbe (knee) and Dzanan Musa (shoulder) are all out. That’s likely to mean Rodions Kurucs will once again start.

Musa told Brian Lewis he’s out for a month. As for the others, Atkinson admitted Crabbe has taken “longer than we thought,” but insists he’s almost ready to return. As for Graham, Atkinson said he’s little further away than Crabbe.

“He’s done some 5-on-5 work. His timetable is a little longer because he’s been out so long,” Atkinson noted. “But I like what I see with the progress. He’s really out there on the floor doing a ton of stuff. It’s just probably going to take him a little longer because he’s been out so long.”

And no, no word on when we will see LeVert again.

The Suns somehow have no injuries but they’re likely to be real tired.

The Game

Devin Booker, in his five games since returning from injury, has averaged 30.8 points and 7.4 assists. He is going to be an issue. The Nets did a solid job containing Victor Oladipo until the end of the game when he took advantage of the Nets increasingly tired defense and bumped his scoring up to 26 points. Against Booker, the Nets will have to stay engaged from the first to last minute, he can get hot in a moment and put up gigantic numbers. Dude had a 70-point game when he was TWENTY!

D’Angelo Russell should look to have himself a bounce back game after a rough one on friday where he scored just three points on 12.5 percent shooting. Dinwiddie was also not quite his usual self, shooting 33 percent for 15 points, but that’s the kind of production you might expect against the best defense in the league.

There were so many possessions where the Nets were just swinging the ball around the perimeter looking for anything and the Pacers just stood their ground. That is a well coached, well oiled machine. The Suns should not be so tough to score on, allowing 112.3 points per game and letting opponents shoot 47.7% from the field, good (bad?) for 27th in the league.

The Suns might not have a true starting point guard (call Sean Marks about Shabazz Napier guys) but they do have like, way too many wings. T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre, Troy Daniels, Mikal Bridges, and Jamal Crawford make up an arsenal of perimeter players the Nets will to have to deal with, and that’s not even including Booker. In the right system, these players might make up a pretty stout defensive rotation, but so far most of them have either underperformed or are just not quite good yet.

Rodions Kurucs put up a career high 24 points Friday night, hitting 4-of-5 threes while playing 34 minutes. The 20-year-old rookie opens up the offense when he’s hitting shots like that, and his energy is invaluable. At one point during the game he was beaten off the dribble by his defensive assignment, and then made an effort to immediately recover and blocked a layup. Love that. He and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have been playing all out lately and it’s a huge part of Brooklyn’s recent success.

Recently Rondae has been much more aggressive on both ends of the floor, but his offensive game has really been interesting. He’s becoming a better and more creative finisher around the rim and while he still doesn’t have that preternatural touch someone like DLo does, he works hard to get good shots and lately they’ve been going in. Over his last eight games he’s averaging 13.3 points per game and has even hit five threes on nine attempts or 55.6 percent. Some more of that high effort play will go a long way against a team like Phoenix.

Player To Watch

Last week I talked about how the Hawks traded away the Luka Doncic pick for Trae Young, and now this week we’re going to talk about how Phoenix took DeAndre Ayton first over Luka. The final part of this miniseries will come in January when the Nets play the Kings.

Anyway, this is the most defensible choice of the three players taken instead of Luka. Ayton is extraordinarily talented, and at just 20 years old he’s putting up 16.3 points and 10.6 rebounds while learning the NBA and a new system and a new life and that will always impress me. Now, are his stats padded by the fact his team is quite bad? Yes. Let’s not forget Jahlil Okafor put up 17 and 7 his rookie season.

But Ayton does show signs of his legitimately high potential, like in the Suns recent win against the Celtics where he put up 23 and 18 and shot 10-of-14 from the field and Saturday’s loss to the Wizards where he had a monster game of 26 and 17. Those performances are glimmers of hope that one day Ayton will be good enough to make up for the mistake of not taking Doncic, who is a transcendent talent. When he has lapses of focus on defense and looks tired and disengaged, those are moments that should remind Suns fans of their front office’s choice to take a centerover a position-less, limitless 19-year-old superstar. We’ll see which Ayton shows up Sunday in Brooklyn.

No matter who shows up Sunday, they’ll be tired. Booker played 54 minutes; Warren 52; Oubre 42 and Ayton 38 Saturday night in game that ended after 10 p.m., 20 hours before start time in Brooklyn.

From The Vault

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas. For those of you that don’t, enjoy an empty movie theatre or a day where every parking spot is free. I think I’m going to see “The Favourite” and the new “Spiderman” movie. Have wonderful Sundays and Holidays everyone.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to the Bright Side of the Sun, our Suns sister site on SB Nation.

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