Suns eye another upset as trip opens at Pacers
The Phoenix Suns get a second consecutive shot to beat an NBA power, while the Indiana Pacers hope to continue to take advantage of a soft patch in their schedule when the clubs meet Tuesday night in Indianapolis.
The Suns open a four-game trip riding the momentum of one of their best wins of the season, a 102-93 stunner at home on Saturday over the top team in the West, the Denver Nuggets.
Rookie big man Deandre Ayton labeled the win an eye-opener.
"We were the aggressors today, not them," he told reporters after the win.
"We've got to keep doing that. That was a big win against a great team. Opened the league's eyes. Opened our eyes. We know we have it. We've just got to keep doing it and be consistent."
Consistency has been a problem for the Suns (11-33). They have gone just 3-7 in the game immediately following their previous 10 wins, with all three victories coming in a four-game winning streak last month that featured a win at Boston.
The Suns would like nothing better than to get on a roll this week, but that won't be easy. After the Pacers, they will visit the East's top team, the Toronto Raptors.
Suns newcomer Kelly Oubre Jr. surely is well aware of the strength of teams such as the Pacers and Raptors. He played his first three-and-a-half seasons with Washington and already has made five visits in his career to Indiana, including one in December before getting traded. He scored 23 points in that game.
Oubre has been a driving force in Phoenix's last two wins, scoring 26 points in each. He might have to carry a similar load Tuesday with high-scoring guard Devin Booker having missed the past three games with a bad back and possibly unavailable all week.
Booker had 20 points and Ayton an 18-point, 12-rebound effort in a competitive effort in a 109-104 home loss to the Pacers in November. Myles Turner countered Ayton's double-double with one of his own, contributing 16 points and 13 rebounds to the Indiana win.
But the Pacers' top big man has been out of action of late with a sore right shoulder, and although he's probable to return Tuesday, Indiana coach Nate McMillan assured that backup T.J. Leaf will continue to get playing time.
McMillan noted at practice Sunday that Leaf, a second-year player out of UCLA, will be part of an expanded, 10-man rotation when Turner returns.
"He's been playing good basketball for us," the coach said. "We'll continue with that rotation. He's doing a good job for us."
Leaf had totaled just 42 points this season until getting a greater opportunity with Turner out. He's chipped in with 23 points in his last three games.
He also had a nine-point outing against the Suns last January.
The Pacers (28-14) have won eight of their past 11 games, with the three losses coming at the hands of the Raptors (two) and Celtics (one).
A convenient schedule has afforded them the opportunity to play Atlanta (twice), Brooklyn, Washington, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and New York in the other eight games.
The Pacers will see Philadelphia and Toronto later on a five-game homestand that tips off against the Suns.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 14, 2019