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Suns’ Earl Watson: Experiences trump ‘moral victories’

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots over Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
LISTEN: Earl Watson, Suns head coach

The last time they took the floor, the Phoenix Suns lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 120-116.

A loss is a loss, but the young Suns played well, erasing a 22-point deficit and giving the defending NBA champions all they could handle.

Many Suns fans were encouraged that a team that is near the bottom of the Western Conference standings played so well against a team featuring LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Nobody likes to use the term “moral victory” when describing a team’s loss, but many did in the aftermath of the game. Earl Watson wasn’t one of them.

“I don’t like to use that phrase a lot, either,” the Suns’ head coach told Doug and Wolf Tuesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “I think, for us, I think we competed at a high level and our young guys, facing LeBron for the first time, to me, was more eye-opening.

“When I grew up, it was guys like Michael Jordan, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Gary Payton — and the first time you get a chance to compete against them in a game, you get caught up in those moments because it’s your childhood basketball idol and you finally get a chance to be on the same court. At the same time, in reverse, those guys are looking at you like ‘I’m trying to demolish this young kid.'”

Watson pointed specifically at his two teenage rookies — Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender — as the main beneficiaries of the experience.

“To be able to continue to build up Marquese and Dragan and have those experiences is going to be monumental for us moving forward,” he said.

Chriss and Bender combined for 17 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and four blocked shots against the Cavaliers, and both rookies have been playing with more confidence over the last couple of weeks.

The next test or “experience” for the Suns, is a two-game swing in Mexico City. Phoenix will be the “home team” in games against the Dallas Mavericks Thursday and the San Antonio Spurs Saturday at Mexico City Arena. Watson is very clear on what the goal for the trip is.

“Some guys will never go to Mexico City again or see the pyramids again in their lives,” he said. “Basketball is always a learning tool, but we understand when we get there, we have one focus. That’s one game at a time and to get a victory in each game.

“We are playing in altitude (7,350 feet) and we’re playing older teams. We want to get there, get in and get used to the altitude and just be ready to run.”

Both of the NBA Global Games in Mexico City can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. Thursday’s contest gets underway at 8:00 p.m. with pregame coverage starting at 7:30.

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