The Phoenix Suns plans to put Cameron Johnson’s ramp-up to full participation on hold Saturday night, as it will rest the forward on 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 undergoing 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 help make up for the continued absences of Chris Paul (sore right hip) and Devin Booker (strained left groin). Johnson figures to return to the court on Sunday when the Suns play host to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Nets likely weren’t surprised to see Johnson, but they were blindsided by a pair of unheralded Lees in the Thursday matchup, with Damion going for 16 points in a rare start and Saben chipping in with 15 points and six assists on the ninth day of a 10-day contract.
Among Saben Lee’s biggest fans was Johnson.
“He just got here,” Johnson gushed. “Making a big impact in the game … that’s impressive. He’s quickly become one of us.”
The Suns are expected to sign Saben Lee, a Phoenix-area high school product, to a second 10-day deal before the Saturday contest.
The Suns had lost three in a row — all on the road — before Johnson’s return against the Nets.
Next up, Phoenix gets to face an Indiana team that will be completing a back-to-back set.
The Pacers were once again without Tyrese Haliburton (sprained left knee and elbow) as they fell 134-111 at Denver on Friday night. The standout guard, who last played on Jan. 11, remains sidelined indefinitely.
The loss was the sixth straight for the Pacers, the third in a row to start a four-game trip that ends in Phoenix.
Indiana reserves Bennedict Mathurin and Chris Duarte had 19 and 18 points, respectively, against the Nuggets. The Pacers benefitted from the one-sided nature of the game in that it allowed coach Rick Carlisle to limit his starters to 25 or fewer minutes.
On a night when the Indiana backups outscored the team’s starters 67-44, the Pacers got scoring from seven different reserves, including Trevelin Queen, who connected on one of the team’s eight 3-pointers.
Queen, who is playing on a two-way contract, had a season-high 13 points in the previous game, on Wednesday at Oklahoma City. The 25-year-old credits Haliburton, three years his minor, with being a positive influence.
“He’s just a great leader. He’s very approachable,” Queen said. “Whether it’s the beginning of the game, whether we’re down 10 … he’s always calm, cool, collected. He just brings so much to the game.”
The Pacers and Suns will be meeting for the first time this season. The rematch is slated for February 10 in Indianapolis.
Phoenix swept last year’s two-game season series, winning 113-103 at home in January in a game in which Paul and Booker combined for 29 points. Johnson chipped in with eight off the bench as a backup to Jae Crowder, whose holdout this season opened a starting spot for the fourth-year player.