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Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns get back to work, focused on final 23 games

(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

PHOENIX – The NBA All-Star break is officially over.

After six days off, the Phoenix Suns returned to work. They were on the practice court at Talking Stick Resort Arena for just over an hour on Wednesday, much of it spent running.

“Just trying to get our wind back,” guard Devin Booker said, his practice jersey soaked in sweat. “We were doing a lot of heavy breathing in there, but I think we’ll be good.”

Added interim head coach Jay Triano, “We had a lot of energy.”

And Triano continued, the Suns had “everybody available” which had been somewhat of an issue going into the break with the number of players in-and-out of the lineup due to injury.

Booker (left hip pointer), center Tyson Chandler (neck spasm) and point guard Tyler Ulis (low back spasm) all were full-go though Ulis’ back was still bothering him some but “he made it all the way through practice so that’s a good thing,” according to Triano.

At 18-41, the Suns are tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the worst record in the NBA.

The Suns have lost seven straight and 12 of 13. They have but four wins since the calendar flipped to 2018.

Obviously, there’s nothing left to play for this season. The Suns, however, can play for next season.

“Build on for next year, trying to get some momentum that will carry over to the summer, that will carry over to the next season,” Booker said.

The 23-game sprint to the finish line begins with a rare home back-to-back set Friday and Saturday against the L.A. Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers, respectively.

Triano said he wants to see consistency, something Booker mentioned as well.

Triano also said they’ll try some different things, on both ends of the floor, “and that’s more to challenge these players. Are we going to be able to make adjustments when we play a certain team? Are we going to be able to make adjustments in a game?

“I think the biggest thing is how competitive can we be, how can we keep developing this core and play together.”

Speaking of playing together, the Booker-Elfrid Payton backcourt will be something to pay attention to during this stretch.

The Suns got a glimpse of that pairing just before the break. Booker scored 28 points and Payton registered a triple-double (13-11-12) in the loss at Utah.

“As you’ve seen when we were out there, I can play off the ball a lot more which will make it, I feel, easier on me,” Booker said. “He can get people open (looks at the basket) and if you’re trying to keep somebody just on me the whole time, he can score so I think it’s going to be a good tandem.”

Triano said he’s challenged Payton to get to know his teammates, where a player wants the ball, how to put a player in the best position to make a play.

“True point guards know how to do that,” Triano said. “He will learn his teammates and learn how to make them better the more time he spends with them.”

It won’t be easy, especially given the competition upcoming for the Suns.

Their last 23 games include seven meetings against four of the top five teams in the league: Houston (one game), Golden State (three), Boston (one) and Cleveland (two).

“This is what I want for our young players,” Triano said. “We’re going to play the best and we’re going to play them at a time where they’re trying to get ready to be the best they can be. So let’s find out who we are, let’s find out what we have to do to be on that same level.”

Booker ‘zapped’

Four days later, Booker was still basking in his victory in the 3-point contest during All-Star Weekend.

The trophy he won, however, did not make an appearance at practice. He had left it in his car — “a new car, too,” he said, smiling — after arriving back in town only hours earlier from Southern California.

Booker beat out Klay Thompson of the Warriors and Tobias Harris of the Clippers with a record 28 points in the final found. It was a result that had been predicted the day before.

“My sister (Mya) got a wand from Universal Studios the night before,” Booker said, “and she zapped me with it before. She literally said, ‘I want this to make him beat Klay Thompson.’ So I texted her after and said it was the wand. She said, ‘I’m going to bring it with me everywhere.’ She was really excited about that overall. Memories that will last forever.”

Booker had several of his teammates — Ulis, Josh Jackson, Davon Reed and Alan Williams — with him in L.A. cheering him on. Booker then spent the last half of the break in San Diego.

“It was good to get away from basketball for a little bit,” he said.

Shaq joins the Suns

The Harrison family enjoyed a two-fold celebration on Monday. At the hospital.

Guard Shaquille Harrison received a call from his agent telling him the Suns intended to sign him to a 10-day contract — which the team made official Wednesday — and Harrison’s sister had a baby.

Harrison, named after Shaquille O’Neal, has spent the past two seasons with the Suns’ NBA G League affiliate, the Northern Arizona Suns.

“I’m just trying to seize the opportunity,” he said. “I’m very grateful to be here. It’s a great organization, that’s why I stuck with them the past year-and-a-half, two years. I’m loving it and enjoying the process.”

Harrison fills the roster spot vacated by guard Josh Gray, whom the Suns released on Wednesday.

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