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Nurkic Takes on Lakers in Sizzling Phoenix Showdown

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The Suns will have their starting center back for a key matchup against the LA Lakers, LeBron James and Co. on Sunday in Phoenix on ABC.

Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic (right ankle) returns for their game Sunday at Footprint Center against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the LA Lakers.

The Suns are a different team with Nurkic, who is their lone big who can compete at a starting caliber.

“He’s also finishing really well around the basket, creating extra opportunities off the glass, but having him is a hub out there, even  someone who can bring the ball up against pressure at times, just being able to throw the ball on the three-point line and pass and cut and have that pass/cut element of our offense is missing when he is not out there,” Vogel said.

“So we’re happy to have him back.”

Although Nurkic returned to the lineup, the Suns are without starter Eric Gordon, who has groin tightness, and Bradley Beal, who has a hamstring strain. Vogel did not provide a clear update on Beal, who is yet to return since the All-Star break.

Nurkic is one of the Suns’ best facilitators, something Vogel mentioned pregame. He has also appeared in the most games (53) of any starter.

Nurkic, who is in his first year with Phoenix, missed the Suns’ 114-110 loss to the Houston Rockets. Phoenix is thin at center, which makes Nurkic perhaps their most important player aside from Kevin Durant.

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Nurkic is also someone who will fill a role that will be needed in the postseason. Standing at 7-feet tall with a 290-pound frame, Nurkic is an immovable big. He, statistically, ranks in at least the 96th percentile of all NBA athletes in rebounding, including rebounds per 75, defensive rebound chance per 75 and rebounds per game.

Phoenix is 0-4 without Nurkic.

The Suns are eighth in the West, but are expected to compete for their first-ever NBA championship. The Suns traded for three-time All-Star Bradley Beal in June, creating a “Big 3” with Durant and franchise star Devin Booker, who is a four-time All-Star.

Nurkic was traded to the Suns from the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for disgruntled center and former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton. Ayton, who is 25 years old, had important plays for the Suns’ Western Conference title team in 2021 but lacked urge and force in the two following postseasons.

Phoenix, which is 33-24, plays the Lakers Sunday at 1 p.m. MT. The game is televised by ABC with commentator Ryan Ruocco and sideline reporter Katie George.

Trevor Booth_headshot

About the Author

Trevor Booth is a beat writer covering the Phoenix Suns, in addition to working as an associate editor. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism from Arizona State University in 2021. Booth is passionate about his faith, video games, sports with friends and making the most of his time with his girlfriend when he’s not working.

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