PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns are set to play 17 games against teams that currently have a .500 record or better in the second half of their 2020-21 schedule, the NBA announced on Wednesday afternoon.
The Suns are 11-4 this season against teams with a .500 record or better and 9-6 against squads with a losing mark. Phoenix will play 37 games following the NBA All-Star Game on March 7, beginning with the Portland Trail Blazers March 11. The Suns are scheduled to conclude their season on Sunday, May 16 in the second game of a back-to-back set against the San Antonio Spurs.
Phoenix will have eight instances in which it will play back-to-back games in the second half of its schedule and eight nationally televised games on ESPN, NBA TV or TNT.
Several teams, including the Washington Wizards, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Hornets, have had multiple games postponed because those teams were unable to meet the requirement of eight healthy and available players. Those clubs will be busier the rest of the way to reach the NBA’s 72-game target mark.
The league is aiming to conclude its regular season on May 16 and finish the 2021 NBA Finals by July 22 in an effort to avoid competing with the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which are scheduled to begin on July 21.
The Suns are on pace to snap their 10-year playoff drought, which is the second-longest active streak in the NBA. They currently rank fourth in the Western Conference with a 20-10 record, the team’s best mark through 30 games since the Suns started 21-9 in 2007-08 during the Steve Nash-Amar’e Stoudemire era under coach Mike D’Antoni.
Phoenix is in the midst of a three-game winning streak and is one of the NBA’s hottest teams with 12 victories in its last 14 tries. It has arguably played its best basketball in the last week, overcoming an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans and posting back-to-back 30-point wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers.
The two most recent victories marked only the third time in franchise history that the Suns have won two straight games by 30 points or more.
“I just think we’re getting more comfortable with the system, each other,” Suns coach Monty Williams told reporters prior to his team’s win over Portland on Monday. “Defensively, if you look at the numbers, we’ve tried to maintain that intensity and execution.
“Offensively, maybe we’ve found the balance in games of playing in .5 (his system of making decisions with the ball within a half second), playing in pick-and-roll, playing in our called plays. But it’s just the guys making plays, obviously, doing it within the system.”
Against the Pelicans and Grizzlies, Phoenix made 22 and 24 3-pointers, respectively, which marked just the fourth time in NBA history that a team made 22 or more 3s in consecutive games, according to Stathead.com. The Suns set a franchise record with 24 triples versus Memphis, when four different players made four or more 3s.
In that game, Phoenix point guard and NBA All-Star reserve selection Chris Paul also passed Oscar Robertson for the sixth-most assists in league history, an accomplishment his teammates and coaches treasured. Suns guard Devin Booker grabbed the game ball for Paul, whose presence has been critical to the team’s improvement.
— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) February 24, 2021
“It’s kind of hard putting it into words, being a fan of the game for so long and being a fan of his for so long,” Booker said. “And now being able to grace the court with him, it’s unbelievable.”
Added Paul: “We’re a team like that. When (Suns rookie forward Jalen Smith) got his first bucket in a game, we gave him the ball after the game. Over the course of a season, a lot of times you have practices, everybody’s so serious and you’re locked in. But these moments are something that are big.”
In his sixth NBA season, Booker is having the most efficient year of his career by averaging 24.7 points per game on 50.1 percent shooting and a 38.1 percent clip from 3-point range. In his last 12 games, he has averaged 26.8 points, 4.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game while shooting a stellar 53.1 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from three.
Despite the numbers, Booker was not selected by NBA coaches as a reserve for the All-Star Game, leading to passionate responses from Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and others that he was snubbed.
Paul on Devin Booker not being selected as an #NBAAllStar:
— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) February 24, 2021
“Probably the most bittersweet (All-Star selection) of them all, because Book is an All-Star,” Paul said during an interview with TNT on Tuesday night. “It’s not taking away from any of the guys that was named All-Stars, but our team, the Phoenix Suns, we go as Book goes. And he knows that and we know that.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, however, the NBA announced Booker would replace Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis, who is suffering from a right calf strain.
He was also added to the game as an injury replacement last season when Portland’s Damian Lillard was unable to play, and he is a past winner of the Mountain Dew All-Star 3-Point Contest.
Phoenix currently ranks sixth in the NBA in offensive efficiency and eighth in defensive efficiency and is one of only three teams in the league (Utah and Milwaukee) to rank among the top-10 in both categories.
The Suns have five games remaining before the All-Star game, starting with Wednesday’s home contest against the Charlotte Hornets. They then have three road games against the Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers before returning home to face the Golden State Warriors on March 4.
Now fully healthy, Phoenix will look to continue to make a push toward the top of the Western Conference standings and solidify a postseason berth. Paul, who has been a part of playoff teams in each of the last 10 seasons, said the Suns are close to figuring out the team they want to be.
“We still got a ways to go, but I think the thing we’re starting to understand is that defense is what travels,” Paul said. “You’re going to make shots on some nights, you’re going to miss shots but defense is something that can be a constant. And if we can continue to build on that end, that’s where you really try to build trust and teams try to build their foundation.”