How All 4 Play-In Teams Matchup with Phoenix Suns in First Round Playoff

Phoenix Suns, Jae Crowder. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns, Jae Crowder. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports /
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Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker
Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports /

Phoenix Suns Potential First Round Opponent: Minnesota Timberwolves

Spearheaded by their young trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell, the Minnesota Timberwolves climbed from the 13th seed earlier this year all the way into the seven slot.

But while Minnesota’s top-10 offense stands most responsible for this turnaround, the team’s above average defense represents the far bigger—and possibly more influential surprise. Bringing in Patrick Beverley helped on the court and in terms of developing a culture, but the team’s internal improvements made a much bigger difference.

In his fourth season as a pro, Jarred Vanderbilt developed into a potential NBA All-Defensive team member. In Minnesota’s revamped defense, Vanderbilt works as the lynchpin of the scheme thanks to his rim protecting talents and ability to switch on screens.

The Suns saw this when matching up with the Timberwolves on all three occasions this season. Although Phoenix did end up winning each contest, the average win margin was a less assuring 7.3 points.

Back in November when these two teams first met, the pick-and-roll game between Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton worked exceptionally well, as Ayton especially swallowed up mismatches all night. His seven offensive rebounds came by way of a few clutch put-back dunks. He ended the game with 22 points on 72.0 percent true shooting, while securing 14 total rebounds.

Ayton proved even more dominant down the stretch in his only other appearance vs the Wolves this season though which occurred in March. The former Wildcat not only snagged seven offensive boards, but also ended with a career-high 35 points.

Without the Point God that night, this game saw Ayton fall back to his hook shot and other self-created looks—most of which found the bottom of the net all the same. Along with this, Ayton played a key role in limiting Towns to just three points in the second half, as Phoenix enjoyed another comeback victory.

But aside from Ayton, having the game’s best closers proved valuable in these close games as well. Back in the November matchup, Paul only scored two points through three periods, but dropped 19 in the fourth alone. All other points for Phoenix during that period came from Devin Booker, who added nine points in less than six minutes, including both the game-tying and lead-taking shots.

The middle game which took place in January saw the Ayton-less Suns dispatch the Russell-less Wolves. With the Wolves also missing one of their best guard and Chris Paul defenders in Beverley, CP3 finished with an efficient 21 points and 14 assists. Booker led all scorers with 29 points that night.

But again, even with all these overlapping injuries, all three games came down to the wire. If such circumstances arise again, Phoenix will need to remain calm and take Minnesota apart piece by piece. Thankfully, they carry enough tools to do so.

Although Towns resembles an almost unstoppable force, Phoenix does possess one of the better guys to try and slow down KAT in Ayton. With DPOY candidate Mikal Bridges up top, Booker’s defensive improvements, and options like Torrey Craig off the bench, Phoenix appears capable of doing relatively well against Minnesota’s guards at the same time. The Wolves’ switch-heavy defensive scheme might play into the hands of Paul and Ayton as well via the pick-and-roll.

Minnesota probably resembles the most talented team the Suns could face in a first-round matchup, barring a Kawhi Leonard return. But with all these factors considered, Phoenix looks too well-equipped to make any upset feel possible.

First Round Series Prediction: Suns in 5