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Suns wrap up extended, challenging start to season at home with Celtics

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) shoots over Atlanta Hawks forward De'Andre Hunter (12) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — It’s a strange start to the season for the Phoenix Suns, and not just because of the success.

They’ve spent a whole lot of time playing at home, more than shooting guard Devin Booker can ever remember having in his career.

They’ve only had one two-game trip on the road through 11 games, and with three days off between those games, they elected to come home between them.

Monday night’s affair with the Boston Celtics is the finale of a six-game homestand before they play three out of the next four away from Talking Stick Resort Arena, and then two games later go on their first true road trip of the season.

“I’m ready to get on the road, honestly,” Booker joked but probably not really joked at shootaround. “I don’t know what it is. I’ve never had this homestand, especially this early in the season.”

With three days in between games after Thursday’s win, the Suns had a chance to go beyond the routine of an in-season practice by, well, being able to have a training camp-like routine of having the same flow a few days in a row.

“It is huge for us,” head coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve had these segments in the preseason and now where we could come home and heal up.

“From a coaching perspective, you get to put some more wrinkles into your offense and defense and look at more film so it’s been like another training camp for us. Even though we’re playing really important games, being home in your facilities, it gives you a chance to spend more time.”

Boston comes to the Valley with a 10-2 record, the best in the Eastern Conference. Like two of the other East teams to recently visit in the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets, they give teams problems because of their versatility.

Beyond the All-NBA talent of Kemba Walker, there’s the wing creativity of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, rookie flamethrower Carsen Edwards and the improved playmaking of defensive pest Marcus Smart.

At shootaround before a loss to the Miami Heat on Nov. 7, Williams spotlighted that type of versatility and emphasized that dribble penetration could present severe issues if they allowed too much of it.

That wound up being what hurt them in that game, and with a similar team in Boston, that was the area Williams mentioned again Monday.

“1-on-1 defense is going to be a big deal tonight,” he said. “Once you take out the primary, secondary options, they are a team where they have a number of guys that have bounce in their game and can get their own shots.”

And again, like Miami, the guys off the ball still are worth mentioning. Williams brought up Enes Kanter on the offensive glass, the athleticism of Robert Williams, and rookie Grant Williams, a high-IQ player who is always in the right spot.

To make one more link to the Heat, Boston’s well-constructed style of play will remind you of Miami and the Suns as well because of how much it shines through that they are a well-coached squad.

Brad Stevens has his team No. 1 in halfcourt offense this season, per Cleaning the Glass, and they manage to be second in offensive efficiency overall despite ranking 16th in effective field goal percentage. While that points toward some regression coming for them, it also means they execute, where it shouldn’t surprise you to see they have the league’s best turnover percentage.

The Suns have been top-five in forcing turnovers this year defensively, an area to watch for in terms of who comes out on top, but overall, these are two like-minded teams.

Phoenix joins the Celtics, Lakers and Bucks as the four teams that are currently top-10 in both offense and defense.

After a brutal schedule to open the season with several tests mixed in, this will be the Suns’ last before it eases up a bit and they get back in the swing of things away from home.

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