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Suns back home for preseason finale after mixed results on road

Assistant coach Monty Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on against the Toronto Raptors in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at the Wells Fargo Center on May 5, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — You should take preseason basketball for what it is. That statement is especially true with the way the Phoenix Suns’ two preseason games on the road went.

On Thursday, a 17-point loss in Sacramento against the Kings came with nearly everyone in the Suns’ rotation playing, including Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio.

Those three would sit for rest against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday, which led to a 134-118 win in which the Suns made 24 three-pointers. That would have been a franchise record had it been in the regular season.

Monty Williams isn’t banking on that being sustainable. Wiliams used the phrase “we’re not going to get happy on the farm” after that game.

“Certainly aren’t going to make any declarations about our team after a game like that,” the head coach said at shootaround on Monday.

Even with something like turnovers the coach has been spotlighting, an area of emphasis that has decreased from 29 to 21 to 18 over the three preseason games, he’s not reacting much to it.

This, of course, is not to say Williams can’t look at progress and accept it for just that. It’s just going to be scattered results in a time like the preseason.

But what is a repeated theme is the “0.5” mentality of quick decision-making offensively, and that was the main product of the Suns’ success in Portland on Saturday.

Booker liked what he saw from the bench.

“The flow was incredible,” he said. “I think you start getting shots in rhythm when you’re playing that way. Everybody’s happy.

“So when you get that shot, the ball is not foreign to you. You’ve touched it that possession or the possession before. Playing that way, it helps the rhythm, helps the flow (and) you get the shots that you want.”

The starters, coming off a great performance Tuesday in the preseason opener, were not able to find that cohesion in Sacramento that the reserve-heavy group thrived with on Saturday.

That leaves them something in mind to strive for on Monday night in the last preseason game against Denver before they have eight straight days off, followed by the season opener on Oct. 23.

BRIDGES BACK TO 100%

Wing Mikal Bridges didn’t practice at training camp and missed the preseason opener due to a right knee injury, something he aggravated right before the team departed for Flagstaff.

The week before training camp in a workout, he landed regularly for a jump shot and felt it flare up right away.

Bridges said Monday he’s back to 100% and, after Monday, will have had three preseason games to get back in the groove.

Williams was re-assuring Bridges before the team even left for training camp, telling Bridges that he put in all the hard work this summer and everything will be fine if he stays ready mentally.

Bridges had as good of a test as any on Saturday in Portland, chasing Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum around nearly all game.

“Oh god,” Bridges said when McCollum running around was brought up. “It’s tough. Of course, my second game back and actually starting and playing a lot, of course it’s against them.”

Look at how much work McCollum makes Bridges go through off the ball over just a few seconds of one possession.

That’s two full sprints and a third extra movement back to the corner where Bridges is assuredly just waiting for McCollum to try one of his tricks with a back-cut or maybe another lap around.

“Those guys condition real well,” Bridges said. “Just running around, running around. Then you finally get over a screen, then you’re fighting over, they’re strong, they’re smart, bump you off, get you off-balance.”

Here’s one of those instances where Bridges did his job for the most part, but despite Bridges being larger and longer, McCollum bumps him and he’s done for when trying to recover.

And that’s without screens. McCollum is such an expert at navigating angles that he forces defenders to take the hit and get stuck.

Even when Bridges does a terrific job of getting around screens and contesting, McCollum will still make shots.

While McCollum got his, scoring 27 points, Bridges still defended him pretty well. That’s just the reality with facing scorers like that, and Bridges was glad to get a trial run like McCollum at this point in his season.

“It was tough but I’m happy we had that game,” he said. “That kinda helped me, just go against them real early.”

NOTES

— Tyler Johnson will miss Monday’s game with a sore right knee. That’s the same knee he had surgery on at the end of last season and ensures the Suns will not play with their full rotation in any of the four preseason games.

— Booker said he will play after getting rest the game prior.

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