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The 5: What’s working for the Suns during their recent run of winning

Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (3) celebrates with forward Richaun Holmes (21) during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

We’re back.

After the Suns won five of seven in December and it looked like a turning point in the season, they lost 17 straight.

And since breaking the losing streak, they’ve won four of five.

Like last time, we’re gonna have to wait another week or two before defining the team’s recent form as, well, anything really.

But for now, we can look at the five things that are working for the Suns in this stretch.

The waves of Tsunami Papi

Since the-man-who-has-more-swagger-than-my-entire-family-tree’s arrival in the starting lineup, Oubre is posting an efficient 18.8 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field.

Yes, defense has always been the bigger problem for the Suns, but that’s a big chunk of scoring the Suns have been missing without T.J. Warren.

One of the other weaknesses of the team has been rebounding, and Oubre is grabbing 7.0 a night during that stretch, including 1.6 on the offensive glass.

This play is all about keeping himself active, moving toward the basket in case the ball will be there instead of standing still.

The ball lands where he needs it to and that’s two free points.

His relentless attacking of the basket has brought on 5.4 free throw attempts in his last five, second on the team behind Devin Booker’s 7.8.

Aided by Deandre Ayton’s 14 against the Los Angeles Lakers and the Suns have three guys getting to the line consistently. They are second in the league in free-throw rate over every team’s last five games.

Tyler Johnson’s play

Boy, having a player who is just rock-solid and can make the right play does wonders for a team like the Suns who, by default, don’t have many of those guys. Rookies like Mikal Bridges and De’Anthony Melton are on their way to being those types of players, but in their rookie year, that’s a lot to ask for.

Insert Tyler Johnson. While he’s only shooting 37.9 percent as a member of the Suns through 10 games, having another capable ball-handler who can both score and provide for others is immensely valuable to the Suns.

As The Timeline Podcast’s Sam Cooper points out on Twitter, it’s really helping out Devin Booker.

It’s not rocket science, let alone long division to realize what’s happening here. With Johnson being trusted enough to have the ball, Booker’s off it more. Add on some looks in transition, designed plays and Booker’s lightning-fast release and you’ve got more easy buckets for him.

To go back on Johnson being trusted with the ball, that’s all about the respect his teammates have for him.

“Stability, quiet leader,” head coach Igor Kokoskov said of Johnson after Wednesday’s win. “He doesn’t say much but his game — and just a lot of respect. You can feel, you can see it. A lot of respect for his teammates, for who he is and what he brings to the table.”

The starters

In the five-game run, Johnson, Booker, Oubre and Ayton outscore teams by 16.9 points per 100 possessions.

Johnson and Oubre’s insertion into the starting lineup has clearly paid off for Kokoskov, a move that met some criticism given how Bridges and Melton have played. But wouldn’t you know it, moving two rookies out and two playoff-experienced players in has turned some things around.

Defense!

The Suns have allowed 108.3 points per 100 possessions over their last five games, a number that ranks eighth across the league in that time. That is quite the far cry from their 113.4 number on the season or 118.5 during the 17-game losing streak.

That’s been because of what the second unit is bringing.

Josh Jackson’s 98.5 defensive rating in the last five is tops on the team, trailed by Troy Daniels and Richaun Holmes. And even with the numbers slightly worse for the starters, Dragan Bender’s 109.4 is the worst and he’s only playing 16 minutes a night.

The Suns’ 10.8 steals over the stretch are first in the NBA and 6.0 blocks tie for seventh. How does it go again: defense turns into offense? The Suns are fourth in points off turnovers (20.2) and third in fastbreak points (19.0) looking at every team’s last five games.

Ayton’s flashes

We’ve covered Ayton extensively both in podcast and written form the last three games, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it when looking at the grand scheme of things.

It’s rare to see Giannis Antetokounmpo struggle this much around the rim.

On offense, he might not have been as productive, but Ayton’s post moves were notable. A fallaway jumper resembling the form of a guard and a punshing dribble attack beyond the elbow were the highlights.

Consistency is the biggest thing going forward. Knowing Ayton is capable of these types of plays is more than enough to feel optimistic after one season but he struggled against the New York Knicks on Wednesday, a far inferior opponent to the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.

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