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Challenged Phoenix Suns face challenging week ahead

Phoenix Suns head coach Jay Triano, right, talks with referee Jacyn Goble (68) during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Monday, March 5, 2018, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

PHOENIX – Maybe this is the week interim head coach Jay Triano had in mind when, following the All-Star break, he looked at the Phoenix Suns’ remaining schedule and boldly proclaimed, “This is what I want.”

Yes, every coach wants to be facing playoff-caliber teams night in and night out down the stretch.

Some context is needed.

For starters, Triano was referring to the Suns’ youth; and then on top of that, how a young roster stacks up against the best teams in the NBA.

In other words, finding out how far away the Suns are from once again competing for a playoff spot and then what pieces are needed to end what has now become an eight-year postseason drought, which by the way is the longest the Suns have gone between playoff appearances in the 50-year history of the franchise.

The Suns, owners of the league’s second-worst record at 19-49 behind only Memphis (18-48), will certainly be tested this week.

Beginning Tuesday, the Suns will play Cleveland, Utah and Golden State — in that order— over a five-day stretch. That’s three teams with a combined 126 wins plus two teams that have represented their respective conferences in the NBA Finals for three years running.

“It’s a good test for us, matching up with those high caliber of players,” guard Devin Booker said Monday. “You get to see what championship basketball looks like up close and hopefully you can learn from it but at the same time, compete against those guys.”

The Suns will be looking to snap a five-game losing streak when the Cavaliers pay a visit to Talking Stick Resort Arena. Overall, they’ve dropped 15 of 16 and 20 of their last 22.

And though the end results have not been good, the Suns do put up a good fight. Just look at their most recent game. Without three of their top four scorers on the floor and playing the fourth game of a four-game, seven-day east coast road trip, the Suns nearly stole one in Charlotte.

The good news is those three injured players — Booker plus forwards T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson — all practiced on Monday, according to Triano.

“It’ll depend on how they got through this practice,” he said, referring to their availability against the Cavaliers.

All three are officially listed probable.

“I want to be out there,” said Booker, who is dealing with a left triceps strain.

Warren has missed each of the past two games due to back spasms, while Jackson hurt his knee early in the game at Oklahoma City and then sat out the Charlotte contest.

“First things foremost, you got to take care of (your) body, you got to be healthy,” Jackson said. “I knew it was great for myself and for the team for me to take that little bit of time off to be able to make sure I come back 100 percent.”

In addition, backup center Alan Williams was a full participant in practice, according to Triano. Williams played 5-on-5 full-court for the first time since offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

“He did in practice what he did last year in games,” Triano said. “He got a couple of second-chance opportunities. Kept a ball alive, hit a floater on a quick pocket pass on a pick-and-roll. It looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, but that’s just practice. We’ll see how he responds to it.

“I think we’re getting real close.”

The Suns list Williams questionable for Tuesday. They may look for him to make his season debut later in the week, perhaps targeting Thursday in Utah.

So the Suns are getting healthier, while Cleveland is banged up. Forwards Kevin Love (left hand fracture) and Tristan Thompson (right ankle sprain) have already been ruled out.

The Cavaliers have lost two straight, dropping two games in Los Angeles to the Clippers and Lakers to begin a five-game road trip. Yet any team with LeBron James is still a scary team, especially for a young team like the Suns.

“You get a little different feeling when you play LeBron or the Cavaliers, somebody like that, because he is the bar and everybody, you want to see where you stack up against the best,” Jackson said.

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