Deandre Ayton feeling fresh, likely to return from ankle injury vs. Hawks

Feb 1, 2019, 1:53 PM
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) is congratulated by teammate De'Anthony Melton following a 1...
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) is congratulated by teammate De'Anthony Melton following a 107-99 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves during an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

PHOENIX — The last six games of the Phoenix Suns’ nine-game losing skid came without Deandre Ayton at center.

Sidelined with an ankle injury, he used a break spanning Tuesday’s loss to the Spurs and Saturday’s matchup against the Atlanta Hawks to ramp back into shape.

Friday after practice, Ayton was the last player off the floor as he worked on a three-point stroke that he’s yet to add to his offensive arsenal.

“The magician never tells them his tricks,” Ayton said when asked if that was going to reveal itself in the near future.

Ayton had gone hard and barring a setback seems all but certain to return Saturday as the Suns aim to break a losing streak and find traction with six games left before the NBA All-Star break.

To prepare for his return, the rookie big man spent this week running in the team’s training pool and getting his cardio back.

“I feel very light. My legs feel brand new like I just got to the league,” he said. “So yeah, it’s a good sign.”

Phoenix could certainly use him. The Suns’ net rating without Ayton the last six games was -15.4, as the defense most notably fell off a cliff, allowing opponents to score 118.4 points per 100 possessions. That’s well below their rating for the year at 113.4.

The offensive ratings haven’t been any better, as Phoenix is scoring 102.9 points per 100 possessions, also down a few clicks from the team’s year average of 104.1.

And while Ayton’s legs might be fresh, he hopes the last two weeks on the bench can help him from an IQ standpoint as well.

“I just see from the coach’s view and what they’re talking about during the game and practice in film,” Ayton said.  “I think I’m on the same page with the coaches now and I can just spread it with my teammates.”

Not the best time

Ayton and Suns teammate Mikal Bridges made a Thursday night appearance on ESPN, whose cameras caught watching as Ayton’s Arizona Wildcats fell to the Arizona State Sun Devils, 95-88, in overtime.

Let’s just say the loss didn’t sit well with Ayton, who sat among ASU fans for most of the game.

“I saw him this morning. He was still pissed about the game,” Bridges said Friday.

Ayton took the ribbing best he could. And he admitted to being “a little troll” toward Sun Devil fans during some of Arizona’s runs.

“I’m surprised they allowed me to sit next to them, all the ASU fans I was around,” Ayton said. “I tried to throw a hoodie on but no, they saw me, they booed me and everything.  I even think I brought a little energy to them — I shouldn’t have went to the game. It’s like they got more confidence. They start looking at me and screaming. I’m like, uh, yeah. Good game, guys. They got us.”

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