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Suns cautiously ramping up, anxious to begin competing with other teams

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You could get a sense on Friday that Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams was ready to just get this whole thing going.

The trade-off between the league giving teams enough time to practice and get acclimated for the bubble before games started is that it’s a longer “training camp” than teams are used to. It’s usually 6-7 practices before the first preseason game, which is the mark of gym time the Suns have just hit.

Phoenix has been in Orlando for over a week now, practicing since July 9, and its first scrimmage is two weeks later on July 23.

The Suns will take all the time they can get to prepare, but Williams also wants the next steps to come.

“For me, I’m anxious to see us against competition outside of our gym and progress the program as it relates to being in this bubble, throwing a bunch of stuff at our guys for a week and seeing how we respond to another team trying to take us out,” he said.

“All of the coaches will say guys look good, all of that stuff, but it’s hard to say where you are until you start playing games against competition outside of your gym.”

Some of that pent-up energy was evident from the jump, as these next-level athletes and competitors were stowed away in quarantine waiting to get after it.

Williams has had to keep far more of his attention than usual on how far he’s pushing his team, making sure they don’t go too hard too fast, because quite frankly this team would if he directed them to.

“I’ve had two or three practices where I’ve had to cut a drill short or cut a drill out because our guys go hard,” he said. “We compete. That’s who we are. I listen to our sports science (staff). They send me a graph every three or four days from a load standpoint. I look at that and I try to manage according to what I’m reading, and then I listen to the guys.

“I’ll go around the gym and ask them to be straight with me about their soreness. If I feel like guys are at a soreness level of seven, eight, nine — I don’t want that, so I may pull it back a little bit. We’re all trying to find the sweet spot as it relates to conditioning because we’ve never been in this environment before.”

Center Deandre Ayton has another theory on the urge for everyone to go in practice.

“We are pretty antsy,” he said. “Our legs are pretty fresh. We’ve been working a lot over the quarantine so a lot of guys have new bodies, new playstyles. It’s just fun to see everyone upgraded, leveled up.”

There is still some fine-tuning to be done with the on-the-court product too. Williams admitted that every team right now could point out an aspect or two it needs to sharpen up.

“You’re always concerned with the details,” he said.

The talking on both ends of the floor is what Williams wants his team to get better at, as he sees it typically tail off when guys are tired, which is happening more as players’ conditioning trends upward.

“That’s probably the one thing that is not where it needs to be: the communication, especially in pick-and-roll coverages,” he said. “If I had to give you guys something we had to improve on, it’s just being able to communicate. Whether it’s pick-and-roll coverage, or switching, or whatever it is on defense, that’s something we’re going to focus on in the next few practices so we can be ready for the first game.”

Now, the dark cloud hanging over the Suns that grows in size and gets more noticeable every day is this: Who on the team is practicing in Orlando and who isn’t?

General manager James Jones said a day before the team left for the bubble that some players would arrive at a later date.

On two separate occasions, Williams has declined to comment on who isn’t in Orlando.

Media aren’t allowed in practice, so social media and who speaks at availabilities is the only way to keep track of attendance outside of asking.

So far, Ricky Rubio, Mikal Bridges, Aron Baynes, Elie Okobo, Jalen Lecque and Tariq Owens have not been seen on any social media pages or spoken with the media from Orlando.

Bridges, though, said he’s there when he was asked on Twitter.

Bridges also showed up for the first time on Friday night.

As for the others, well, just listen to Ayton when he took a question on how excited he is to get beyond practice and play against other teams.

“I’m waiting for everybody on this team to get back to our old ways. We got some time before we start scrimmaging,” he said.

Sounds like they’re waiting on a couple more bodies.


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