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Suns still focused on defensive improvement after strong start

Furkan Korkmaz #30 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives the ball into Ricky Rubio #11 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on November 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the 76ers 114-109. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have been a very good defensive team through seven games of a 5-2 opening to the season.

They are seventh in defensive rating, fourth in turnovers forced per game, sixth in second-chance points allowed per game.

With that in mind, it’s a long year and there’s still plenty they can get better at.

That begins with how they take in this recent success.

“We talked about it,” head coach Monty Williams said after practice Wednesday. “We want guys to appreciate what they’ve done but understand that it’s so early in the season. You can’t make declarations about any team after seven or eight games. It would be irresponsible of me as the steward of the program to do that. We’ve focused on our process.

“Our guys know that we’re a ways away from being a solid team.”

Defensively speaking, Williams sees these spurts in a game where his team’s defense can go through some lapses, particularly in the closing stretches of quarters.

“It’s being consistent,” he said of what they can improve on the most defensively. “We have had lulls midway through the first or second quarter. But more than anything, finishing quarters is something we have to get better at.

“The really good teams, in my opinion, they understand close out a quarter before halftime, it gives you momentum going into the next quarter. Golden State was really good at that. We’ll get better as we get more familiar.”

As far as where communication comes in, a huge weakness for the Suns on defense the past few seasons, Williams is fine with it so far but there’s more that needs to come.

“It’s an area that we’re OK with,” he said. “Aron (Baynes) is a big part of the positive part and Ricky (Rubio) and Devin (Booker) are always talking so I think it’s something over time as we get to know each other — this group has been together seven games … There are so many things we know we can get better at.

“Communication is huge, and a lot of it is just knowing what to say and it takes time. We still have guys that don’t know what to say and I’m OK with that because we’re all learning. So once we learn what to say when you’re tired, I think we’ll be a better communicating team.”

AYTON SEEN AT PRACTICE

When Williams was talking to the media, his eyes drifted to the left towards the court, where, by the sound of it, something had started taking place beyond just shooting after practice. His eyes went there again. And then again, to the point where this media member turned around and didn’t listen to the coach for a few seconds to see what was going on.

It was a 5-on-5 pickup game that had broken out, not uncommon for the Suns this season after practice to take place between coaches, players and staff members. But the difference this time was that the suspended Deandre Ayton was participating.

Ayton has been able to practice with the team and has been seen at shootarounds on the road. The rule is that Ayton has to be out of the arena two hours prior to a game, so he can partake in a lot for being suspended.

Wednesday did qualify, so there he was, shooting around after practice and getting some run in.

Media were told not to take videos or pictures of that specific instance of a pickup game. Ayton looked like someone who had been out of the fold, getting tired after running up and down enough times and was lethargic. That’s to be expected with his absence and something to keep in mind as his return draws closer, which is a little over five weeks out.

JEROME STILL PROGRESSING

Rookie Ty Jerome was seen out of his walking boot but was moving around in a way that suggests he’s far away from a potential return. A sprained right ankle has had him out all season thus far.

Jerome was taking shots and handling the ball, but doing so while walking and not jumping. He was still hobbling quite a bit while moving around after practice. The home opener, the game before Jerome got hurt, was two weeks ago, and the release on Jerome’s injury said he’d be re-evaluated in 2-4 weeks.

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