With all due respect to the red-hot New York Knicks, no team has been more impressive this week than the Phoenix Suns with close wins – by a combined four points -- at Eastern Conference contenders Milwaukee on Monday and Philadelphia on Wednesday. What will the Suns have left in the tank Thursday when they visit another very good Eastern team in the Celtics? Boston will have Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart in the lineup but most likely not Jaylen Brown and for sure not Robert Williams. The Suns, who likely will be sans Jae Crowder, opened at -6 but are now -2 on the William Hill Sportsbook NBA odds.
Boston had a six-game winning streak snapped Monday in a 102-96 home loss to Chicago. While Tatum and Brown played in that game – Tatum had the first triple-double of his career with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists but was just 3-for-17 from field – Walker, Smart and Williams did not.
Walker and Smart were dealing with a non-COVID illness but both have been cleared to return Thursday. So has Tatum, who was listed as questionable on the first injury report Wednesday night with a left ankle issue. He has not missed a game since March 22.
Brown (career-high 24.5 ppg) has been dealing with injuries all year and is listed as doubtful with left shoulder bursitis – it could just be the C's are keeping him out in the front end of a back-to-back as they visit Brooklyn on Friday (expect Walker to sit that out). Williams will miss his fourth straight game Thursday with a sore left knee but is "not too far away," according to Celtics team president Danny Ainge. Tristan Thompson has returned to the starting center role with Williams out.
The Suns are quite healthy but could be on fumes with those two draining, down-to-the-wire games this week. They caught a break Wednesday in that the 76ers were without Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Seth Curry – and Joel Embiid almost hit a full-court shot at the buzzer to send it to OT. It's probable that Crowder misses this game for the Suns as he left Wednesday with a sprained ankle. He's a good 3-and-D guy.
Phoenix is an NBA-best 19-7 (16-9-1 against the spread) on the road. It also beat the visiting Celtics 100-91 on Feb. 7. Up 55-53 with 9:57 remaining in the third quarter, the Suns used a 21-6 run to take control. Devin Booker had 18 points and 11 assists. Booker has 29.4 career ppg average against Boston, his second-highest vs. any team. Tatum had 23 points for Boston, while Walker had 14. Brown and Smart missed that one.
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