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Suns look to replicate strong defensive effort on Luka Doncic, Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) looks to pass as Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

The Phoenix Suns can surely take some stock in how they played against upcoming opposition prior to facing them in Orlando.

When this entire ordeal got rolling all the way back in June, head coach Monty Williams had already said he was watching film of those teams, including the Dallas Mavericks.

Sunday’s opponent is coming off an overtime game on Friday, a 153-149 loss to the Houston Rockets.

A few parts of that game were unique.

For one, Houston not playing any bigs encourages a certain style of play and almost challenges teams to go ahead and try to beat them in a shootout.

The Mavericks were fine with that, hucking 49 of their own three-pointers to the Rockets’ 48.

That gets the tempo and number of possessions up, but also makes it an unusual game to get a better read on Dallas coming out of the break.

All-Star guard Luka Doncic looked particularly gassed by the end of the game after playing 42 minutes, with guard Tm Hardaway Jr. (41) and big man Kristaps Porzingis (39) joining him in playing a high amount of minutes. The Suns didn’t have anyone crack 36 minutes in Friday’s 125-112 victory over the Wizards.

Another oddity was the Mavericks starting three guards with Doncic, Hardaway and Seth Curry along with Porzingis and wing Dorian Finney-Smith.

This was a necessary pivot for Dallas because of a season-ending injury to Dwight Powell, who was traditionally starting as the other big man next to Porzingis.

Dallas has gone three guards out the gates at times this season, including a Jan. 28 loss in which the Suns smoked them 133-104.

Head coach Rick Carlisle could also go with hybrid big Maxi Kleber, who is an undersized five that is a strong defender both around the rim and on the perimeter in certain matchups.

This is relative to the Suns because Williams has seen success in the last two games with Cam Johnson starting at power forward, particularly in Friday’s win because of the way an early sub-out for Johnson and re-entry later created a strong second unit of Johnson and Dario Saric.

That’s probably easier to do against the three-guard look, but Kleber isn’t enough of a factor on either end to really swing the decision, so I’d expect to see Johnson back out there.

Either way, the key as always with Dallas is stopping Doncic, which Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton were extremely effective in doing for that January win.

 

Doncic only had two assists in that game. The Suns restricted his creative freedom as a playmaker. Ayton here aggressively cut off Doncic’s space as opposed to the more traditional drop coverage he’s used to. The big man can move his feet enough to do that.

Ayton was terrific at being right there when Doncic got around his ball screen.

 

It can even be as basic as Bridges serving as more of a pest for Doncic, making him work for everything after Friday’s exhausting effort against Houston.

When asked about this game, Williams said he wanted to make sure Devin Booker got his credit in there too, and that Booker is someone who has improved significantly in that defensive aspect since.

“He’s a guy that’s been tenacious on the defensive end getting over screens,” Williams said. “Those three guys complement each other on defense.”

Booker spent time on Doncic and should on Sunday too.

“I don’t want to rest on that game,” Williams said. “We have to improve in a number of areas. And Luka is a guy that you can’t really stop him but you can try to make it tough on him and that’s what we want to do.”


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