Suns

Suns Set to Heal at the Right Time

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The Phoenix Suns have rattled off four wins in a row for the first time since the end of November.

This puts them just three games back from the third seed in a cluttered Western Conference.

It’s no secret the aforementioned conference was going to be a close one this year. But this Suns’ trend upwards comes perfectly timed as many other teams are trending downward in said conference standings.

At the time of writing this, the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers are 4-6 in their last ten games. The Dallas Mavericks are 3-7. Also in a spiral are the New Orleans Pelicans who are 2-8 and losers of six straight.

With Cameron Johnson and Chris Paul returning to the starting lineup amidst the run, the Suns are getting their guys back slowly but surely. This paired with the elevated play from Mikal Bridges in recent games could spark a much-needed good stretch of basketball before the All-Star break.

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Where’s The Hope?

The hope lies with the word all Suns fans have come to know and “love”, continuity.

Soon to have more guys like Devin Booker, Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet back bode well for the Suns. Starting out the year healthy, the Suns were first in the West at the end of November with a record of 15-6. Seemingly back on track from last year.

Since then, the Suns have a record of 10-18 in December and January, sputtering like no other. There can be no blame put on anyone specific, as no one was expected to have the workload they had to endure with no Booker. However, the time off for the rotation guys has given a lot of new faces time to learn the Suns’ playbook and find their roles.

Suns fans’ new favorite player Josh Okogie has done nothing short of earn playoff minutes during this stretch. He has provided grit on defense and insane timing on rebounds. A must-have when it comes to time and need for hustle.

Another new face making an impact is Damion Lee. He leads the NBA in three-point percentage at 48.4%. Staggering shooting and high-IQ playmaking have made him a key player on Monty Williams‘s late-game plans. Sure enough, we’ll see playoff minutes for him as well.

Plugging these guys into what we already know the Suns are capable of in the playoffs will provide some much-needed help, especially if a trade is made down the line and we see who is left on the roster.

Johnson Brings Fresh Air

Since making his return, Suns forward Cam Johnson has already given Suns fans a glimpse into what we’ve been missing without him on the floor.

Tuesday night against the Charlotte Hornets was the epitome of it all. He went perfect in the first quarter, going six for six from the field and nailing four threes to make up his 16 points. A sigh of relief was felt from everybody, but not before this thunderous slam that had the house rocking.

As mentioned before, continuity is going to play a big role in getting this Suns team back on track. Johnson’s return is a sign the ship is sailing in the right direction.

Can Mikal Keep The Volume?

The light in all of the darkness in this stretch has been the development of Mikal Bridges’ offensive game. Averaging 20.0 points per game in his last ten games, Bridges has responded incredibly well to his uptick in usage. It’s evident Monty Williams is sticking with what he knows by keeping Bridges out there for extended minutes. He’s second in the NBA in total minutes played as of January 26th.

The ironman is used to being the most durable on the team, considering he’s never missed a game in his career, even in college. But now, he’s been the No. 1 offensive option, meaning he is the top target on opponents’ scouting reports.

This hasn’t altered Bridges in the slightest, however. During his hot streak, his shooting splits have been quite impressive. 47% from the field and 40%(!) from three are both slightly up from his season averages, all while averaging four more points per game.

The main attraction should be his field-goal attempts. Jumping in his last five games to 18.2 attempts from the 13.1 attempts he averages on the season, Bridges has been looking for his shot in the midrange from the pick and roll like we haven’t seen him do before. Now mimicking his teammate Devin Booker’s tendencies from time to time.

This, while showing off some handles like his Point God teammate Chris Paul.

Time will tell if Mikal can keep this up when guys like Devin Booker and Chris Paul slowly integrate themselves back into the offense. Bridges is going to need to stay aggressive and he’ll need to take control of the offense like he hasn’t before to initiate some sets for himself. This run seems like it might have prepared him more than enough to get it figured out.

Suns Should Scare No Matter What Seed

In the end, the questions about the Suns this year were never about the regular season. Falling short to the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs after posting a franchise record in wins during last season left a bad taste in many mouths. Fans are just again waiting for post-season play and this stretch of injuries has given them little to work with.

With the trade deadline sneaking up on February 9th, questions about the roster will be answered soon. Then the team can look forward to putting it together for a second-half surge.

The first seed seems to mean nothing these days, however. No matter what seed the Suns end up getting, they’ll be a scary first-round draw for any opponent in their way.’

About Cameron Prichard

Twitter: @CameronPNBA

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