Determined Phoenix Suns remain red hot heading into All-Star break

Mikal Bridges’ ability to complement the contributions of Devin Booker and Chris Paul while thriving on offense and defensive have been key to the Phoenix Suns’ success so far this season. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The defending Western Conference champions are playing some of the best basketball this franchise has seen. The Phoenix Suns have remained one of the top teams in the NBA since the start of the season, and through 58 games and with the All-Star break around the corner, they sit atop the standings again.

Suns forward Mikal Bridges has been one of the team’s most intriguing storylines. A top defender, he’s making a strong case for Defensive Player of the Year.

But lately, Bridges’ contributions on offense have been key in the Suns’ final push into the All-Star break. His ability to turn it up in the fourth quarter has allowed the Suns to finish strong consistently.

Having All-Star guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker on the court has allowed Bridges to open up his offense.

“Those guys, man, for them to just have confidence in me and everybody else out there to give up the shot for somebody else, that builds me up,” Bridges said. “It’s just dope that we have two unselfish guys who can go get a bucket whenever they want.”

Over the past 10 games, Bridges has been lighting up the stat sheet, averaging 19.5 points and 5.6 rebounds.

“You have got to be able to take that shot and live with the results, and Mikal with case and point,” coach Monty Williams said. “He’s not afraid to take those shots, and I don’t think he was afraid before.”

The Suns roster is stacked with players who, like Bridges, can develop a scoring role on any night. But General Manager James Jones and the Suns front office felt the need to add more role players before the Feb. 10 trade deadline.

And just before that deadline hit, the Suns did exactly that, added two depth pieces to the roster. They traded for Pacers power forward Torrey Craig in exchange for 2020’s 10th overall pick – power forward Jalen Smith – and a 2022 second round draft pick.

Phoenix also added Wizards guard Aaron Holiday for cash considerations. Holiday, a fifth year player out of UCLA, is the brother of Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday.

Craig is familiar with the Suns, as he saw meaningful minutes in last year’s run to the NBA Finals. Suns players are happy to have him back in the locker room and welcomed him with open arms.

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“Very nice, man,” Booker said. “Obviously it felt like he didn’t leave at all. He’s right in here, the vibes are great. I’m happy to have him back.”

In his season debut for the Suns on Feb. 10 against the Orlando Magic, Craig had 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, which was complemented by two steals in 23 minutes.

“It’s crazy,” Craig said. “It literally feels like the same way it did last season, just coming in and fitting right in with the guys. But I guess it’s that easy and you have a bunch of guys who play together and play to a certain standard.”

The Suns now are crowded in the forward spot, with Craig, Bridges, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson.

Holiday was an instant contributor in his Suns debut against the Magic. He had 10 points and was 4 of 5 from the field in 10 minutes.

“Watching Aaron out there hawk the ball, we value that,” Williams said. ‘His ability to shoot the ball and defend the ball is something Holidays are known for. So just watching those guys (Holiday and Craig) fit right into the program was pretty cool.”

Holiday’s addition will give the Suns options at point guard heading toward the playoffs. The Suns also have Cameron Payne, who has missed 18 games, and Elfred Payton, who has played meaningful minutes during Payne’s absence.

The Suns won seven in a row heading into All-Star weekend, and they were 4-0 since the trade deadline. They will look to keep the momentum going after the break as they return to action Feb. 24 to take on a young Thunder team in Oklahoma City.

Kobe Blackwell koh-bee
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Kobe Blackwell expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Blackwell, who has interned with SLAM as a production assistant and reporter, is working for the Phoenix sports bureau.