NBA 2022-23: Phoenix Suns, down three starters, gear up for Indiana Pacers

The Phoenix Suns plan to put Cameron Johnson’s run-up to full Saturday night participation on hold as the forward will rest at the front end of a back-to-back with the Indiana Pacers in town.

Johnson was limited to 22 minutes in a 117-112 home win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night in his first action since his right knee surgery in November. He missed 37 games.

Phoenix made the most of Johnson’s return, using his 19 points, six rebounds and two blocks to offset the continued absences of Chris Paul (a sore right hip) and Devin Booker (a strained left groin). Johnson wants to return to the court on Sunday when the Suns host the Memphis Grizzlies.

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The Nets probably weren’t surprised to see Johnson, but they were caught off guard by two unheralded Lees in Thursday’s matchup, with Damion scoring 16 points in a rare start and Saben adding 15 points and six assists on day 9 of a 10-day contract.

One of Saben Lee’s biggest fans was Johnson.

“He just got here,” Johnson gushed. “Having a big impact in the game… that’s impressive. He quickly became one of us.”

The Suns are expected to sign Saben Lee, a high school product from the Phoenix area, to a second 10-day contract ahead of Saturday’s competition.

The Suns had lost three straight games – all on the way – before Johnson returned against the Nets.

Next, Phoenix meets an Indiana team who will complete a back-to-back set.

The Pacers were again without Tyrese Haliburton (sprained left knee and elbow) as they fell 134-111 in Denver on Friday night. The outstanding guard, who last played on January 11, remains sidelined indefinitely.

The loss was the sixth straight for the Pacers, the third straight that began a four-game journey ending in Phoenix.

Indiana reserves Bennedict Mathurin and Chris Duarte had 19 and 18 points, respectively, against the Nuggets. The Pacers benefited from the game’s one-sidedness as it allowed coach Rick Carlisle to limit his starters to 25 minutes or fewer.

On a night when the Indiana backups outplayed the team’s starters 67-44, the Pacers picked up points from seven different reserves, including Trevelin Queen, who tied with one of the team’s eight 3-pointers.

Queen, who plays on a two-way contract, had a season-high 13 points in the previous game Wednesday in Oklahoma City. The 25-year-old credits Haliburton, who is three years his junior, as a positive influence.

β€œHe’s just a great leader. He’s very approachable,” Queen said. “Whether it’s the start of the game, whether we’re 10 behind… he’s always calm, cool, collected. He just brings so much to the game.”

The Pacers and Suns meet for the first time this season. The rematch is scheduled for February 10 in Indianapolis.

Phoenix won last year’s two-game series of the season, winning 113-103 at home in January in a game in which Paul and Booker combined for 29 points. Johnson jumped in off the bench at eight to replace Jae Crowder, whose holdout that season opened up a starting berth for the fourth-year player.

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