Suns

Suns Shining Through Cloudy April Schedule

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Here we are Suns fans. Who would have thought?

The sun is still shining, and the Phoenix Suns are STILL your No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, riding down the stretch high on life. The time is now for this squad and the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been.

According to Suns head coach Monty Williams the players couldn’t be more close and locked in down the stretch.

https://twitter.com/Suns/status/1385628399478079496

April Woes Still Bring Wins

Through all the ups and downs this team has faced this year, one thing has remained constant– the chemistry this team has is second to none. Every player has each other’s back at all times, while still holding each other accountable at a moment’s notice. Throughout the month of April — arguably the toughest month this Suns team has had so far schedule and play-wise — the bond this team has will continue to be the backbone keeping them afloat.

To say the least, the fellas are sailing.

Despite splitting games with the Jazz and the Clippers on a back-to-back to start the month and the brutal five-game stretch against the East’s best, the Suns have not let up on their coup through the league. Posting a record of 10-4 so far through the month, Phoenix continues to make noise– regardless of the fluctuation of play from their star players and bench unit.

Revival of Torrey Craig

It’s been a long journey of basketball in the life of Torrey Craig. Since being traded from Milwaukee to Phoenix, he has felt a whole new life, rejuvenating his game in the place Craig states he “wanted to go anyway”.

Craig has continued to prove why he was the most significant acquisition at the trade deadline for any contender this year. With the lack of rebounding when Ayton is off the floor, Craig has instantly filled the role as a “rebound snatcher”, effectively corralling rebounds others are unable to reach because of his aggressiveness. When Ayton and Craig share the floor together, they are masters of the put-back, ranking above the 90th percentile in both offensive rebounding %, and putback points per miss.

Not only that, Craig is an instant plug-in to the defense, having the ability to guard the opposing team’s best at any moment.

Quickly earning the trust of his fellow players and coaches, it is not a stretch to say Craig deserves 25+ minutes come playoff basketball. He will be a key part of keeping them in games when it comes to size discrepancies and aggressiveness on the glass.

Below-Average Book

One does not sit and dwell on a Devin Booker shooting slump. As perennial of a scorer as he is, he is bound to break out of one eventually.

With how long this one has lasted, however, it does catch the eye and might need to be discussed. This month, Booker’s shooting splits have dropped in eFG% and 3Pt% immensely. On the other hand, though, comparing April to the rest of the season, his percentage of makes off assists has gone up in every spot on the floor.

All this is saying is Book has been lacking recently in creating his own shot. Not necessarily scoring in general, considering his points per game have only decreased about one point.

Come this last back-to-back against the Nets and Knicks, however, Book has shown his willpower. He looked a little more comfortable getting to his spots and making the right plays. Over the last two games, Book is averaging 34.5 points (52/55/80 shooting splits), 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Exploding multiple times, this Booker slump may be over for now.

Down the stretch, however, there is no place for extensive poor shooting performances, especially when it’s playoff time.

DA Rolling Down The Stretch

Deandre Ayton is hitting his groove. While Ayton continues to hold down his role as a defensive anchor and creates a new unstoppable rebounding duo with Craig, he has shown massive maturity on the offensive end. In April, Ayton’s stats have increased across the board.

Even to the eye test, You can see Ayton is giving it his all. He buys into the match-ups he’s tasked with. Locked in, always sprinting to both ends of the floor prepared to provide help. As unexpected as it is, Ayton is even laying his body on the line, playing through whatever situation comes.

During the play above, Ayton collides with Khris Middleton, sending shockwaves through his shoulder– rendering it unmovable. Whether Monty should have called a timeout to protect his big man or not, doesn’t take away from the resiliency Ayton showed.

The now-hobbled Ayton made his way down to the defensive end of the floor, knowing he was needed. Whether it looked like it or not, this was just Ayton realizing how big he is and how he can impact the game, even with just one arm. Not that we need Ayton getting hurt every game, but this is the Ayton the Suns need down the stretch and in the postseason. The determined center can make his presence known with not just his size, but the skill he has around the basket.

Ayton continues to be the longest-talked-about topic wherever you go, whether it be on Suns-based podcasts, Twitter threads, or in articles posted here.

Meanwhile, new hope continues to shine through for the Suns’ 2018 No. 1 pick. He continues to flash just what he is capable of. Patience is going to be key to unlocking his game. Whether he shows it when the lights are the brightest in a seven-game series or not will be the X-factor of how far this team goes.

Closing Out Strong

The Suns are down to their final 11 regular-season games. It’s not impossible, but time is ticking to chase the No. 1 seed.

But is that really as important as making sure everyone is rested come playoff time?

In all honesty, probably not. The Suns’ main focus down the stretch should be to ensure everyone is as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs. Regardless of who they play, execution of plays and high-level defense are going to be a need for this squad. Going into later rounds, the margin for error is slim.

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To close out the month, Phoenix has one more serving of the Clippers and the Jazz. Since the Clippers have now caught up to the Suns, these two games will be crucial. Truly deserving of the title “games of the year”, as the implications are at their highest between these next few days.

As we get ready to kick off the last month of the regular season, it’s time we appreciate what is brewing here in the valley. In the end, it seems this team has more answers than questions. More hope than doubt. More opportunity to succeed than to fail and disappoint. Because after all, with what this team has done all year, any other accomplishments are just icing on the cake. This Suns team will forever hold its place among the greats of the past.

Truly capturing what it means to live in this city, and work for what you have.

Follow us on Twitter @SunsLead for the latest Suns news and insight. 

About Cameron Prichard

Twitter: @TheValleyAthltc

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