Pacers move quickly from a blowout of Utah to a matchup in Phoenix
After that 121-88 victory in Salt Lake City, the Pacers will continue their four-game road trip in Phoenix on Tuesday with the second game of a back-to-back.
The Suns had their signature victory of the season on their last road trip, a 116-114 victory over Milwaukee on Friday, but are only 3-6 at home as they make a quick stop before playing at the Clippers on Wednesday.
Phoenix has played better recently, shooting 50.1 percent from the field and forcing an average of four more turnovers per game than opponents, but it was able to get over the hump only in Milwaukee.
The Pacers played without leading scorer and defensive presence Victor Oladipo for the fourth straight game Monday, but they received a season-high 21 points from backup Doug McDermott and shot 58.3 percent from the field.
“I think when I come into the game I have to be looking to hunt shots,” McDermott told reporters Sunday about picking up his scoring, especially from 3-point range. “I’m trying to do my role and get to the corner, but I think I can be more aggressive in certain areas. It’ll come. I’m not worried about it. But I definitely need to be more aggressive.”
McDermott was 8 of 13 from the field and made 2 of 3 threes, adding six rebounds and two assists. Indiana held the Jazz to 42 percent shooting from the field, recovering from a two-game losing streak in which opponents had shot over 50 percent.
The Pacers have an early Sixth Man of the Year candidate in center Domantas Sabonis, who has continued to improve in his third NBA season after being the 11th player selected in the 2016 draft.
Sabonis is averaging 14.4 points and 9.7 rebounds a game and had his second straight double-double Monday. He is shooting a league-leading 69.3 percent from the field and like his father, Arvydas, has an instinct for the game.
The 6-foot-11 Sabonis had 19 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the Pacers’ first meeting with the Jazz this season, a 121-94 victory in Indiana on Nov. 19, when he played only 26 minutes.
Sabonis’ success puts an unwanted light on the Suns’ 2016 draft, inasmuch as his career is in stark contrast to that of the two players the Suns took ahead of him, No. 4 pick Dragan Bender and No. 8 Marquese Chriss.
After playing in all 82 games last season, Bender has played in only six of the Suns’ first 19 games, logging 26 minutes.
Bender dropped out of the Suns’ rotation after Mikal Bridges was drafted and Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson were acquired in the offseason, and he has not found his way back in. The 7-1 Bender has four points and eight rebounds, and he has not shown the kind of physical defensive play the Suns would like.
Chriss, traded with Brandon Knight to Houston for Anderson and De’Anthony Melton in the offseason, has played only six games with the Rockets. He spent most of 2016-17 as the Suns’ starter at power forward, averaging 9.2 points, and played half of last season off the bench.
Jamal Crawford‘s jumper beat Milwaukee, and he has gotten more time recently, averaging 22.2 minutes a game, and with it have come his expected contributions on the offensive end. He has 39 points and has made 6 of 13 3-pointers in the last three games.
He played 10 minutes in the fourth quarter in Detroit on Sunday and teamed with Devin Booker in the final 6:22, when the Pistons used a 15-3 run to take control and defeat the Suns 118-107.
“It’s always tough to win on the road, obviously, but we did some different things to try to keep them off balance a little bit, but then they kind of adjusted,” Crawford said.
Booker has kicked up his scoring recently, scoring 37 points in two of the last four games and averaging 31.5 in that span. He is 49 of 98 from the field and has made 11 3-pointers.
T.J. Warren has averaged 20.3 points a game in the 11 games since he joined the starting lineup, including seven straight 20-point games before he had 19 against Milwaukee and was ejected in the second quarter of the Detroit game after getting two technical fouls for arguing an offensive foul called on him.
Rookie center Deandre Ayton scored a career-high 25 points against the Pistons and is shooting 62.4 percent from the field, the highest field goal percentage in league history by a rookie who has enough field goals made to qualify for the leaderboard.