PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns are back on the winning streak, so a somewhat clinical victory in the middle of a streak felt once familiar and now feels alien.
Even in their shorthanded state, the Suns managed to take care of business against the reeling Charlotte Hornets Tuesday with a 128-97 win.
There is an odd combination of no margin for error and the freedom to control your own destiny in the Western Conference standings as we approach 30 games to go.
It sounds a little cliche, but it really comes down to the Suns focusing on themselves and playing their brand of basketball consistently. If they did, they would move up the rankings, just as they are now after four straight wins.
“Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly what winger Cam Johnson said about the idea.” And we don’t even have our full squad yet. … I think we should keep doing what we’re doing. Focus on the concepts, don’t get too carried away and stay locked in to what we’re doing. That’s how we made a lot of gains last year. We were very consistent with what we did.”
“Absolutely,” said guard Chris Paul, who was also co-signed. “You just have to keep piling the wins together. Keep playing and try to stay as healthy as possible.”
This makes matches like Tuesday a dramatic 180-degree turn when it comes to how we view them.
“We still have a ways to go, but we understand we were in a situation last season where we really didn’t have to look at the standings or nothing like that,” said Paul.
From an outside perspective, what used to be a mockery of the Hornets coming to town is now as close to a “game to be won” as you’ll get in the last week of January.
While we also factored in how the Hornets are now 13-36, they missed LaMelo Ball (left ankle, right wrist soreness), Gordon Hayward (left hamstring strain), Cody Martin (left hamstring soreness) and Kelly Ober Jr. (left). hand surgery).
Although the Suns still bottom Deandre Ayton (non-COVID illness), Devin Booker (left groin strain) Jae Crowder (not yet traded), Cam Payne (right foot sprain) and Landry Shamet (right foot soreness), It’s a game they were heavily favored to win and they needed to.
Phoenix’s start was an encouraging sign of the kind of attention it requires.
The Hornets’ energy wasn’t there, and they weren’t executed. Phoenix manages to push through her core irregularities and finds that her core readings unlock most flights on Earth.
Johnson emphasized that it helps tempo the team more.
He said, “They’re things we know we can do, they’re things we can go for.” “We’re getting the readouts and stuff from every play call and everyone’s just on the same page, so the level of organization is a lot higher than when we’re jostled a little bit more.”
When the NBA defense isn’t challenging an offense to force more than what’s programmed into its standard procedures, that squad is in for a long evening.
One of the game’s first properties told us where the night was headed.
Center Charlotte Mason Plumley was defending Bismak Piombo from the Suns and allowed Piombo all the space on his eight-foot putt. Well, fair enough. You may want to at least challenge him but I understand that.
When Biyombo missed out, though, Plumlee’s lack of physical fitness simply allowed Biyombo to have his stride. From there, Piombo would prove this time his patented hook shot, without much resistance again.
Made 13 assists in 15 baskets made and shot 60% in the first quarter to lead by 21.
“Ball action tonight,” coach Monty Williams said of what worked. “Obviously, when you get 37 assists, you have to take some shots and we did that tonight. I loved our defensive strength to start the game. It set the tone for us.”
Charlotte desperately missed the ball and the Suns gave away the emotion they lacked in terms of ball handling. Getting the ball out of the bucket didn’t help much.
Despite that, Phoenix couldn’t deny that their last three wins were dramatic, even after they were in control of all three and managed to make it to the ice early on.
This fact came to light in the middle of the second quarter.
The Sun topped by as many as 30 but gave up a 26-5 lead that bled early in the second half. It was an eight-point game after the Hornets took out the Suns.
But Phoenix didn’t let anything get more interesting than that, quickly returning their advantage to 15+ early in the third quarter and keeping it there the rest of the way. His 22-for-40 (55%) mark from the 3-point range helped make this possible.
Johnson made all six shots he attempted in the first quarter, including four three-pointers with the opening 4:13 of action.
“To see that ball slip out of his hands as easily as it did tonight was pretty cool,” Williams said of Johnson. “When he shoots shots like that, he opens up the field for everyone.”
Still tied for minutes, Johnson was able to maintain that pace in his 18 minutes to score 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting.
Game after game after Paul’s return all his body movements were again giving good signs that he was as healthy as we’ve seen him all year. He ended up with 14 points, five rebounds and 11 assists, and showed comfort in hitting the middle points.
Another event for the second match in a row was a great minutes from the reserve players. Dario Sarek has been alongside Paul in better physical appearance lately and Jock Landal has found his accuracy in the long haul.
Saric scored 19 points in 24 minutes, the fifth consecutive game in which he scored in double figures when he played at least 20 minutes. He added eight rebounds and three assists, while Landal scored 15 points.
In the quarterback, Biyombo is a big reason the Suns can go 9-1 without Ayton. Biyombo’s edge pressure and seals deep early in the match was huge for that hot start.
“The force with which he plays, he gives everyone energy,” Williams said of Beombo. “He’s catching balls, he’s catching loose balls – he’s 6’8 and he’s playing down there against 6’11”, seven-foot-tall guys and you couldn’t tell. “
Piombo made six points, nine rebounds, four assists and five blocks.
Michal Bridges came one short of his sixth consecutive game of 20-plus-18 in 30 minutes but his foot remained on the gas with a 7-of-16 shooting performance. You can see the long-term vision of how his fresh flow helps maintain stability.
Phoenix can mix Bridges early on or let the likes of Paul, Booker and Ayton set the tempo first. But once Paul goes to his usual rest around the six-minute mark of the first and third quarters, with Ayton and Johnson quickly following suit, then Bridges (along with Booker) can really start to prove himself. Booker would welcome an assist as the primary starter and has been watching Bridges’ growth firsthand from the bench. Once the two are rested, a mix from the previous trio (Ayton/Johnson/Paul) is mixed again.
In the first eight games when the Suns were full, Johnson was substituted out a lot early on so he could field more with the second unit as well as the Paul lineups at the start of the second and fourth quarters. Like Bridges, then Johnson can get the ball more, too. Johnson already has a solid foundation paying off in those looks with Paul, since he was the sixth man finalist last year and appeared there prior to this season.
All that being said, he’s watching how Bridges and Booker build chemistry in those minutes once the First Team All-NBA guard returns, and what Paul/Johnson’s minutes look like with the second unit after Johnson’s minutes cap is lifted.