PHOENIX — What had long been expected became official Thursday — neither point guard Brandon Knight nor center Alex Len will suit up for Thursday’s tilt vs. New Orleans, leaving the Phoenix Suns shorthanded in arguably their biggest game to date.
“They’re getting there. Hopefully it’s close. Hopefully it’s not too much longer,” Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said after shootaround.
Knight will miss his fourth straight game, Len his second.
Knight injured his left ankle March 9 in the second quarter against Golden State; while Len re-tweaked his right ankle March 13 in the fourth quarter against Atlanta, the third time since Feb. 5 he’s sprained the ankle this season.
“Guys are going to have to step up, simple as that,” Hornacek said.
With two-fifths of his starting lineup sidelined, Hornacek said he plans to once again go with Marcus Morris at small forward, sliding PJ Tucker to shooting guard. Brandan Wright will be inserted at center for a second straight game.
Wright enjoyed his best game in a Suns uniform last time out against New York, notching season-bests in scoring (18) and rebounding (11) while playing a career-high 37 minutes. It was his first double-double since joining the Suns.
“You see he’s getting more comfortable every game,” Hornacek said. “He’s more comfortable when he rolls to just catch the ball and take his little floater or whatever his jump shot is — it’s not a jump shot, it’s kind of a jump-float shot that he does because he’s good at that. He gets over the top of everybody. I think he’ll have several of those opportunities tonight, too.”
New Orleans (37-30) has won four of five and sits two-and-a-half games ahead of the Suns and a half-game back of Oklahoma City (38-30) in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Suns (35-33) have lost once already to the Pelicans, 110-106 on December 30, with a third meeting remaining April 10 in New Orleans.
“It’s almost getting to the point where we have to beat them twice,” Hornacek said. “We got to beat Oklahoma City and then somehow we got to beat some of these other teams. It’s probably a must-win for us.”