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Marquese Chriss no longer taking opportunities for granted with Suns

Phoenix Suns' Marquese Chriss, center, dunks against the Golden State Warriors during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 1, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

PHOENIX – When it comes to Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss, it’s often forgotten 1) how young he is and 2) how little experience he has with playing the game.

Neither are excuses, just facts.

It’s been an up-and-down season for the second-year pro.

To begin with, Chriss arrived out of shape to training camp. That cost him playing time. A hip injury cost him several games in January, at a time when he was playing well. Then there was a verbal altercation with the team’s strength coach which resulted in him being told to stay home for one game.

Yes, Chriss has learned quite a lot in 2017-18.

“That things can change real fast,” he said Monday. “You never know what’s going to happen next month, next week, tomorrow, so just making the most out of everything that you have and just trying to stay as consistent as possible.”

Recently, that’s exactly what Chriss has done. Be consistent.

In each of his last eight games, Chriss has scored in double figures, highlighted by a season-high 22 points at Golden State on Sunday. Even better, since re-entering the starting lineup on March 23, Chriss has averaged 14.7 points on 54.7 percent shooting plus 8.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks and 29.7 minutes in six games.

“Just trying to play with energy; just making the most out of my opportunity that I’m having on the floor,” he said.

Opportunity. It’s a word Chriss used a few times when speaking with reporters on Monday.

Had Chriss, 20, taken his opportunities for granted?

“I think I did. I think I was before,” he said. “I think I was being ungrateful — the position that I’m in, I’m in the NBA. I’m doing things that a lot of people want to do. I’m blessed to be doing it and be healthy. I’m happy to be here and just try to make the most out of it.”

Chriss tends to let his emotions get the best of him. And when that’s happened — arguing with the officials over a call or non-call, getting whistled for a technical foul — he’s lost his opportunity.

The Suns just can’t afford to have an unfocused player on the court.

“I think he’s starting to figure out that you got to be able to play through that and there are going to be consequences if I see you losing your focus. If he’s going to lose focus, I got to take him out,” interim head coach Jay Triano said.

“Whether it’s clicked or not — I can tell by looking at his eyes when I go down the bench whether he’s still, like, rolling them or whether he’s focused. I think we’ve started to develop a bit of a relationship where he’ll even say, ‘I’m OK now’ and let me know that, OK, I can trust him again.”

Dwelling on those bad moments in a game, Chriss said, is something he knows he can’t do, not if he hopes to remain on the floor. Yet, it’s not always easy to put things in the rear-view mirror and move on to the next play.

For Chriss, finishing the season strong is important, as it is for several of the Suns’ young players.

“It’s hard for somebody to play great every game, but I think, like I said, just trying to make the most out of opportunities that I have and doing what I can do every night which is just running the floor and playing with energy,” he said. “I can’t pick and choose when I’m going to miss or make shots, so I think just being able to play with energy and try to help my team on the defensive end and just running the floor is what I need to do consistently.”

Competed against the best

In their last two games, the Suns played the two best teams in the NBA. And held their own. For a while.

Despite the loss at Houston and then to the Warriors, Triano came away encouraged.

“I think we got off to good starts because of our energy and the way that they’re playing — they’re playing the right way,” he said of his team. “Eventually good players are going to find a way to pick you apart a little bit and maybe we’re not as consistent yet because we’re so young to be able to go the full 48 (minutes). But, for the most part, we’ve showed a lot of compete and a lot of resolve in tough situations.”

Health updates

Every Suns player, including injured starters Devin Booker, Alex Len, Elfrid Payton and T.J. Warren, participated in Monday’s practice, one in which Triano called light.

Booker (right hand sprain), Len (left ankle sprain), Payton (left knee tendinopathy) and Warren (left knee inflammation) played 4-on-4 halfcourt.

“Now let’s see if we can get to the point where they can play in a game,” Triano said.

Booker, Len and Payton are officially listed questionable with Warren doubtful to play in Tuesday’s game against Sacramento.

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