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Dario Saric out for Suns, Jae Crowder returns to starting lineup

Dario Saric #20 of the Phoenix Suns celebrates a three-point shot against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half of the NBA game at Phoenix Suns Arena on February 13, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Phoenix Suns center Dario Saric is out for Friday’s matchup with the Chicago Bulls due to a right ankle sprain.

Saric, 26, appeared to injure the ankle in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets. The Croatian has been one of the team’s most important players this year, averaging 10.6 points per game. Phoenix outscores teams by 19.9 points per 100 possessions when Saric plays, giving him one of the highest net ratings in the league.

With Saric out, that makes the Suns rather thin at center. Frank Kaminsky has started 10 of the team’s last 11 games, a successful effort to try and give the opening group a bit more flow offensively and size against teams using it at the 4. But with Phoenix now down Saric, head coach Monty Williams moved forward Jae Crowder back in his starting spot in place of Kaminsky, who presumably slots in as Deandre Ayton’s backup.

Crowder has been solid this season, perhaps a little less consistently than expected when he was brought in. Even with that in mind, he’s been knocking down three-pointers at a good rate (36.2% on 6.7 attempts per game) while moving the ball and defending well.

The problem with the default starting five of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Crowder and Ayton has surprisingly been defense. In 253 minutes, it has a very poor 121.2 defensive rating and a -9.1 net rating overall. Kaminsky’s limitations defensively made his insertion more of a short-term jolt than anything, as if the Suns are going to make any noise in the postseason, it’ll be with Crowder or Cam Johnson at the 4.

At the center spot, the team recently waived Damian Jones with his guarantee date coming up. Without him and Saric, Phoenix recalled first-round pick Jalen Smith from the G League. Smith is available to play against the Bulls.

Friday’s game in Chicago is set for a 6 p.m. tipoff you can hear on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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