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Vote passes: Suns to return, fight for playoff spot in NBA’s restart

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns looks on in the second half against the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center on December 27, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The National Basketball Association will return to the 2019-20 season, and the Phoenix Suns will be part of it.

League owners voted Thursday to approve a 22-team return plan, including all 16 current playoff teams and any teams within six games of the eighth seed in each conference. Owners approved the vote 29-1, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the NBA told the board of governors that training camps will start June 30. Travel to Orlando is set for July 7, and the season begins on July 31.

Free agency will begin Oct. 18 and a fluid date to start next season was put at Dec. 1, with a Nov. 10 training camp.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in a statement.  “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts.  We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”

Per Charania, Portland was the team that voted against the plan.

Phoenix will have eight regular season games of a resumed regular season to be the No. 8 seed. The Suns more realistically can fight for the No. 9 seed and be within four games of the No. 8 team, which would force a play-in between the squads; in that case, the eighth seed would enter a double-elimination tournament and the ninth seed would be in a single-elimination tournament.

The Suns held a record of 26-39 before the season was suspended in mid-March due to the coronavirus when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive.

That record through 65 games put the Suns six games out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, slotted 13th in the conference and 22nd in the league.

After an encouraging win at home against the Sacramento Kings on opening night, Phoenix’s season was significantly altered when center Deandre Ayton was suspended 25 games for failing a drug test.

Ayton ultimately did not appeal the suspension, but thanks in part to the terrific play of veteran addition Aron Baynes in Ayton’s place, the Suns jumped out to a 7-4 start.

First-year head coach Monty Williams, though, was never able to get a full rhythm for his rotation thanks to injuries the team accumulated throughout the season. Wing Mikal Bridges and guard Devin Booker are the only players to have reached 60 games played, and even with the suspension in mind, Ayton still had ankle issues that kept him out.

Those hiccups along with the inconsistencies of a mostly new group with a new coach never got the Suns fully clicking past those initial 11 games.

After another questionable effort and level of execution in a home loss on Jan. 5 that dropped the Suns to 14-22, Williams did not take questions from the media and only made a statement.

“Until we learn how to play the right way consistently, we’re just going to have a lot of nights like this. That’s the deal,” he said. “Until we learn how to play the right way consistently and follow a gameplan, we’re going to play well one night, then we’re gonna have nights like this.”

A late-season tweak of Bridges starting at power forward with Ricky Rubio, Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ayton proved to be wise by Williams. It has proven to be one of the best lineups statistically in all of basketball. Through 226 minutes, the five-man unit has outscored teams by 20.2 points per 100 possessions.

As always, the team has been led by Booker, who earned his first-ever All-Star nod, albeit as a replacement for the injured Damian Lillard. Booker is averaging 26.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game while maintaining high efficiency at a 48.7% mark on field goals.

Under Williams, the Suns lead the NBA with 27.2 assists per game. They rank 16th in offensive rating (110.2) and 19th in defensive rating (111.3).

While there are certainly asterisks to consider, if the Suns were to make the playoffs, it would be their first time doing so since 2010, ending a nine-year drought.


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