When: 9:00 PM EST
Where: Footprint Center; Phoenix, Ariz.
How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
Outfitting: Hornets — Icon (teal); Suns — Icon (purple)
CHA: LaMelo Ball (ankle, wrist soreness), QUESTIONABLE; Gordon Hayward (hamstring strain), OUT; Cody Martin (knee soreness), DOUBTFUL; Kelly Oubre Jr. (hand surgery), OUT.
PHO: Deandre Ayton (illness), OUT; Devin Booker (groin), OUT; Jae Crowder (not with team), OUT; Cameron Payne (foot sprain), OUT; Landry Shamet (foot soreness), OUT.
The Charlotte Hornets are in the Sonoran Desert to face the Phoenix Suns — without Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker — on the second night of a back-to-back in the finale of a four-game road swing.
Tonight marks the first meeting of the season between the Hornets and Suns; they’ll round out the two-game season series on March 1 in Charlotte. The Hornets last beat Phoenix almost two years ago on Feb. 21, 2021. The Suns won both matchups last season by at least 31 points.
Phoenix has won three-straight games and climbed back to .500 after falling to 21-24 in the month-long absence of Booker. Title favorites in the preseason, the Suns have had a turbulent year that began with the awkward Ayton extension, continued with Jae Crowder’s trade request, and it’s resulted in them now sitting seventh in the West at the end of January. Phoenix is outside the top-10 in the league in both offense and defense and they’re bottom-10 in effective field goal percentage and pace. There’s time to figure it out, but the Suns do not have the makeup of a playoff contender right now.
Chris Paul has surfaced in trade rumors, with Marc Stein reporting that Phoenix has “started to assess their future” without the all-time great point guard. The timing of the rumor may not be a coincidence, as Stein goes on to list Fred VanVleet, Immanuel Quickley and Terry Rozier as potential trade targets ahead of the Hornets-Suns matchup tonight. Paul has two years and $60.8M left on his contract, though the second season is fully non-guaranteed. Phoenix is one of the few NBA teams with a full draft asset cupboard at their disposal; they own all of their first and second-round picks between 2023 and 2030. If a deal were to be made, the Suns have plenty of assets to cobble together.
Trading Rozier at this point seems counterproductive from the Hornets’ perspective; the future salary books are in fine shape and the 2023 free-agent class is subpar, so a money-dump trade isn’t necessary at this point. Clearly, the team is going to be among the worst in the league whether he’s on the roster or not. Why would the front office subtract the only shooter on the roster besides LaMelo Ball mid-season instead of waiting for the summer when more teams are active on the market? There are multiple players on the roster whose value could be maximized by trading them at the deadline ahead of Rozier, who also happens to be the leader in the locker room right now.
Alright, back to tonight’s game. Last night wasn’t a great showing but it wasn’t bad, either. If the Hornets can shoot 33 percent from deep tonight instead of 12.5 percent (2-16 3P), they should be in position to win against the Suns sans Ayton and Booker. Mark Williams is still playing well, Dennis Smith Jr. has dished out seven or more assists in each of the last three games, and Ball might return sooner than expected from his ankle injury.
Fun fact: this is the last game of the season that tips off later than 8:30 PM EST. Great news for those of us who are too washed up (me) to stay awake past 10:30 PM.
Gordon Hayward was a late addition to the injury report this afternoon. We’ll see how long this nagging hamstring injury keeps him sidelined beyond tonight.