Suns

Expectations Rising for Rejuvenated Suns After Six Straight Wins

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Respect is earned, not given– even after making some noise a few weeks back.

The Phoenix Suns still have a long road to earning that national respect. But with expectations high moving forward, the players and fans know what they have been cooking up here in the west.

Amidst the Suns’ long seven-game homestand, so far, it’s been all fun in the Valley of the Sun. Winning six straight and nine of 10, the team is looking to give the avid fans, who have just recently been let back into the arena, a perfect home stretch and leave town still thriving among one of the top spots in the Western Conference.

If you asked anyone outside of the greater Phoenix area what the Suns’ expectations would be at this point in the season, there would not have been a soul saying top four. Sitting at a very pretty 17-9 and cruising as of late, however, Phoenix’s playoff woes can possibly be looked at as an afterthought. After missing the bracket for the last 10 straight years, the Suns finally have a roster capable of getting them out of that postseason slump.

Led by continuing brilliance from one of the best backcourts in the league in Chris Paul and Devin Booker, paired with otherworldly play from the depth and supporting cast — along with the 5th-ranked defense in the NBA — the Suns have every piece to the puzzle to make any seven-game series an interesting one. A matchup problem for anyone unlucky enough to get in their way.

Book and CP3 Continuing Dominance as One of Best Backcourts in the League

Book

Slowly but surely, the minds of CP3 and Book are meshing and the games are adapting to one another. It took some time, but they are looking comfortable, and the numbers are showing. Over the last 10 games, the duo has combined to average 47.3 points, 11.8 assists and 9.0 rebounds– all while absolutely taking charge and leading this group, coordinating chemistry like no other. Even though the beginning of this season may have put some hype on hold, it seems that a stride has been hit, and the rhythm of this unit is loud and clear.

To start games, the path to success has been to get Booker going early. That plan made very plain against the Orlando Magic Sunday night. Book managed to score 17 points on 8/10 shooting, in the first quarter. Scoring more than the entire Magic team that same period, total.

Book only finished the game with a total of 27 points, however, ending on 10-16 shooting. Taking only six more shots the rest of the game. This was the result of him slightly coming back to earth. While also being able to recognize what the team was going to need, playing for the win, rather than the numbers. While obviously this depleted Magic team isn’t the ultimate test for this team, “taking care of business” by not beating under .500 teams has been an issue this year.

Being 9-6 against such teams, head coach Monty Williams put it into perspective saying “to come in and handle business, that’s huge for us”.

CP3

Point God Paul made his resurgence of Point God these last couple of games as well. Including in a huge statement win over the Milwaukee Bucks this last Wednesday. Paul racked up 28/3/7 on 50% shooting while also striking 4-7 beyond the arc. While three-point shooting is a little further than what Paul typically aims for, he has upped his three-point attempts from 3.2 and 3.4 from December and January, to 5.0 attempts a game in February. Which is a good thing, not just because more are falling and that means more points, but this also means he is feeling more comfortable taking different shots, and his three-ball can be crucial.

He went on to say this after the game: “We’re finally starting to get what we want… I think we’re learning how to play well off each other”

Paul went on to drop 10 points in the fourth quarter of the 125-124 Phoenix victory. Once again getting it done in the clutch– a staple of this Suns team so far.

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Cleansed of Injury Plague Raise Expectations

With the returns of Dario Saric and Cameron Payne, the last two games have been the first time the Suns have had fully healthy lineups all year. The impact was seen immediately.

With this being his first game in about two months, the Suns’ back-up center was in for a long Saturday afternoon against the Philadelphia 76ers’ MVP candidate Joel Embiid. To no one’s surprise, Dario was ready for the challenge.

“Dario ain’t gonna back down to nobody, man,” Booker went on to say after the game.

In 20 minutes of play matched against his former teammate, Saric managed 15 points on 50% shooting with a box +/- of 18. Clearly making his time on the court valuable and felt.

With backup point guard Cameron Payne back in the lineup also, Coach Williams will have a list of playmakers to choose on the bench to fill necessary Paul rest time. From bulldog Jevon Carter to polar opposite, calm and collected, E’Twaun Moore. This team has a wide array of personalities to pick from, making them ready for any situation a game may bring them.

Defense Wins Ballgames

As much as offense is needed to win games, it’s been the other end of the floor that has helped result in victories for the Suns. Posting a top-five defensive rating of 108.4 — while also being top 10 in both defensive rebounds a game and points allowed in the paint — it’s clear this is going to be a trend going forward. This stubborn defense rests for nobody.

The anchor of this high powered defense? Deandre Ayton. He has had one roller-coaster ride of a season already. It seems he has found his groove as of recent, however, locking in on both ends. Ayton is top 10 in both offensive and defensive rebounds a game.  While also being third among centers in opponent points in the paint. He’s shown a level of maturity and growth many Suns fans had been waiting to see the former No. 1 overall pick make, and it’s paying off.

Embracing all of his 6’11”, 250-pound frame has been key for Ayton in unlocking his ability to match up against the other high-level centers across the NBA. Even earning praise from All-NBA center Nikola Jokic: “He plays really good defense…give that guy credit”.

Suns Looking to Continue War Path

To say it not so lightly, the Suns have been on a tear these last ten games. The defense to the offense. The starters to the substitution guys. The mental game to the physical dominance. All around this team has proven night in-night out they come to compete and are ready for a fight. No matter the lead, it’s never safe to take any time off against this killer roster.

You can look up and down this roster and see a flurry of different players who can be put in at any point. Currently, the first 36 minutes of a game are up for grabs while coach Williams figures it out. Still and all, when it comes to the fourth quarter, this team has two guys they can turn to, to get it done, and shut it down.

Coming up, the Suns will look to cap off their home stretch with a win against the star-studded Brooklyn Nets. Even with no Kevin Durant, this east squad is no rest day. This Phoenix team is more than competent to handle the challenge.

About Cameron Prichard

Twitter: @TheValleyAthltc

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