Evans, Melton return to power NAZ Suns past South Bay
NBA G League
PRESCOTT VALLEY — After concluding their second of two eight-day respites between games this season, from Feb. 12-20, the Northern Arizona Suns seemed refreshed Wednesday at Findlay Toyota Center.
Returning from the All-Star Break, the Suns (9-31) won their second straight game, downing the South Bay Lakers, 130-126, in an NBA G League Pacific Division clash.
And they did so by receiving some much-needed help.
With guard Jawun Evans back in the Northern Arizona lineup for the first time since Jan. 25, and guard De’Anthony Melton returning to the team for the first time since Nov. 27, the Suns shot 55 percent from the floor (43 of 78), including 20 of 42 (48 percent) from 3-point land.
“We don’t want to live and die by the 3,” Suns point guard Retin Obasohan said afterward. “We hang our hat on our defense. Obviously we gave up a lot of points [Wednesday], so that’s not characteristic to who we want to be as a team. We want to be one of the Top 10 defensive teams in the league.”
Evans and forward George King scored a game-high 28 points apiece. Melton followed with 26 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Evans, who added six rebounds and four assists, may be staying with Northern Arizona for the rest of the team’s season.
“As of right now, I’m here,” Evans said. “I will try to give it my all.”
Evans is a two-way player for Phoenix, while Melton is an assignee.
“You have two NBA-level playmakers on the court,” Suns coach Bret Burchard said. “And with the experience and poise that they have playing at the NBA level, it’s definitely nice to have them.”
Obasohan also came out strong, registering a double-double of 15 points and 10 assists to go along with five rebounds. Aaron Epps and Peter Jok netted 13 points each.
In a back-and-forth game that Northern Arizona mostly led, Epps’ 3-pointer with 45 seconds left in regulation put the Suns ahead 126-121 and gave them a small cushion. Melton and King then netted two free throws each to clinch the win in the final half-minute.
“We hit some big shots,” Burchard said. “I would’ve liked us to guard a little better; we could’ve prevented some of those runs.”
Seven Lakers (14-24) scored in double figures, paced by forward Travis Wear’s 25 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals. South Bay has eight rookies on its roster, and the team is still finding its way.
“They were hitting a lot of 3s early on, and then we got hot and started taking care of the ball and getting good shots up in the second half that allowed us to get back into it,” Wear said. “And we sped them up a little bit and turned up the tempo on defense, trapping a little bit more. But, unfortunately, we couldn’t sustain it.”
The Phoenix Suns assigned Melton on Wednesday.
It marked Melton’s fourth assignment to the G League, where he had averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.4 steals in his first five games (all starts). Among players who have played five games in the league this season, Melton is one of two averaging at least seven rebounds and six assists (Gary Payton II).
“It was great having De’Anthony here,” Burchard said. “He’s comfortable with our guys. The plays are similar.”
The 20-year-old Melton hasn’t played for the Phoenix Suns since Jan. 24 due to a right ankle sprain. In his rookie year with Phoenix, Melton has averaged 5.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.52 steals in 33 games (25 starts). He’s second among rookies in the NBA with 1.52 steals per game.
Melton said he’s rejoining the Phoenix Suns today, Feb. 21, for their game at the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I like to impact the game as much as I can,” he said. “I’m very versatile in terms of that. This is a great group of guys [with Northern Arizona]. We’ve just got to work on defense and continue to communicate with each other.”
The Northern Arizona Suns visit the Stockton Kings (21-15) at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, for another Pacific Division tilt. The Suns have 10 games remaining on their regular-season schedule, seven of which are at home. They will play six straight at Findlay Toyota Center, from March 10-23.
“We’ll see if we can make the most of it [home stand] and end the year strong,” Burchard said.
South Bay plays host to the Austin Spurs (16-20) at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, California.
Doug Cook is a reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at email@example.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.