What: Charlotte Hornets (20-43) vs. Phoenix Suns (33-29)
When: 7:00 PM EST
Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, N.C.
How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
Outfitting: Hornets — City (granite); Suns — Association (white)
CHA: LaMelo Ball (fractured ankle), OUT; Cody Martin (knee soreness), OUT; PJ Washington (foot sprain), DOUBTFUL.
PHO: Landry Shamet (foot), OUT.
Just a day after it was ruled that Charlotte Hornets star point guard LaMelo Ball will miss the rest of the season with a fractured ankle, the Phoenix Suns are set to debut their newly-acquired star, Kevin Durant, at the Spectrum Center.
Durant was acquired by Phoenix ahead of the Feb. 9 trade deadline, but he’s been out with an MCL sprain since Jan. 8. Suns head coach Monty Williams has already said Durant will be on a minutes restriction, but it remains to be seen how many minutes that entails for his debut. He spoke at length following Tuesday’s practice in regards to where his health has been at in the last few weeks and his mindset leading up to tonight’s game.
Kevin Durant on playing Wed: I feel great. I've been looking forward to getting this opportunity to play again. I know it’s going to take me some time to get used to everything early on, but as far as having fun & getting lost in the game, I'm looking forward to doing that again. pic.twitter.com/i9yen0T3p7— Ashley Stroehlein (@ashstro) February 28, 2023
It seems like KD decided to take in some local Charlotte high school hoops for a relaxing evening before his big day, too. Pretty cool.
New Phoenix Sun Kevin Durant, who will make his debut against the Hornets tomorrow, is at tonight's Myers Park-Charlotte Catholic state quarterfinal.— Langston Wertz Jr. (@langstonwertzjr) March 1, 2023
Let us know what you thought @KDTrey5 pic.twitter.com/ldiCoMxQJP
Tonight’s matchup completes the season series with the Suns. Back on Jan. 24, Phoenix rolled to a 128-97 win without Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker, both of whom are healthy this time around. The Suns are 17th in offense and eighth in defense on the season — the prolonged absence of Booker dragged the offensive numbers down a bit, and the addition of Durant obviously makes them better on both ends. Though they’re only four games above .500 right now and sit fourth in the West, it looks like they’ll be hitting their stride at the right time.
Steve Clifford can go two ways with the starting lineup in LaMelo Ball’s absence; he can promote Dennis Smith Jr. and keep Kelly Oubre Jr. as the sixth man, or start Oubre and slide Terry Rozier to the point guard spot. Rozier is better fit as an off-ball spacer and Oubre is an effective sparkplug off the bench, but starting those two in the backcourt puts the most talent on the floor at the tip. Smith might help maintain the league’s sixth-best defense over the last five games, though.
Bryce McGowens, JT Thor and Kai Jones appear to be the likely beneficiaries in terms of playing time. Though McGowens is no longer restricted to 50 games on the active roster, Théo Maledon is still on a Two-Way and can only appear in 12 more games, so he’s lower on the totem pole almost by default. Jones had a nice block and a spin jumper in the paint against Detroit last time out, so maybe he gets a bigger opportunity tonight.