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Suns notebook: Quickly moving on; Warren’s emergence; grab-and-go

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams talks with forwards Cameron Johnson (23) and Mikal Bridges (25) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Friday, July 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)

The Phoenix Suns have preached a game-by-game mentality in Orlando, with Devin Booker saying that an 8-0 record during the seeding portion isn’t even their primary goal.

That will be put to the test more than ever on Thursday. Following the biggest win of the season on Tuesday against the Clippers, they face the Indiana Pacers, the only other team prior to Wednesday’s action that can match the Suns with a 3-0 record.

Head coach Monty Williams liked hearing that a handful of his players got together on their own to watch some of the games right after theirs.

“That’s a good sign that guys were already focused on what we have to do,” he said.

Williams spoke to this team on Wednesday about drawing from experiences like the NCAA Tournament, two of which Mikal Bridges has won, and it’s an approach Bridges himself has already brought up in Orlando.

“You don’t think about the end,” Bridges said on July 30. “You just think about one step at a time.”

There’s also the international tournaments that guys like Aron Baynes, Ricky Rubio and Dario Saric have played in.

“You’re playing high stakes games and you got a different opponent every night,” Williams said.

When going through the film on Indiana, Williams said he noticed heads in the room nodding along with him, emphasizing that his players were already going back through their mental rolodex on a past meeting with the Pacers.

In a hype video for the Suns’ victory on Tuesday, Deandre Ayton was seen at the end returning to the hotel right after the victory. Did he scream into the camera about Booker’s big shot? Beating a title contender?

Nope.

“We got Indiana next, I hear they’re pretty solid,” Ayton said. “Let’s lock in.”

THE ROAST OF THE PHOENIX SUNS

The Suns are the buzz of the bubble at the moment in more ways than one, coming up by association with the play of T.J. Warren.

The forward that Phoenix traded to the Pacers during the 2019 NBA Draft is the MVP of Orlando through three games, averaging 39.6 points per game, including 53 in the Pacers’ opening win.

“He’s been lights out from day one,” Williams said. “He’s scoring at every level.”

The Suns will get an up-close look at the player they have been getting roasted for trading on Thursday.

When watching Warren, this is more of a suped-up version of what we saw him as with the Suns over his first five seasons.

Devin Booker said Tuesday he’s not surprised with the way Warren is playing and that he’s been staying in communication with his former teammate throughout the year.

“He’s just a hooper,” Booker said. “That’s the term to describe T.J., always.”

The biggest development before Warren’s departure was him being a legitimate marksman from three-point range, and he has posted similar efficiency with Indiana. After shooting 42.8% on 4.2 attempts per game in his last Suns season, Warren is at 40.1% on 3.2 attempts this year.

But as you might expect, him being in the best form of his career means he’s hucking that thing with the highest of confidence.

The second bucket you see here is classic Warren. The first is certainly not.

He is 14-of-23 (60.8%) from deep in the bubble.

As always, Warren is going to pick up his usual 15-20 points a night off his touch from the mid-range area and around the rim with his excellent cuts, offensive rebounding and transition scoring sprinkled in too. The Pacers also like to give him some mid-post touches occasionally, a smart move with how well it suits him.

He’s always been one of the most efficient scorers in the league, which is why he’s such a difficult guy to stop when he’s playing like this.

Warren still scored 34 points with only one made three-pointer on Monday.

For the most part, we’ve seen this type of performance before.

“It’s gonna be a great test for us to try and make it tough on him because he’s had his way with every team he has faced,” Williams said.

Expect Bridges to pick up Warren for a good chunk of the night. Bridges will be able to use all the intel he picked up practicing against Warren throughout his rookie year.

“That’s my guy,” Bridges said back in January before Warren’s first game back in Phoenix. “I’ve always been close with T.J., sat next to each other on the plane every away game. He’s a good dude. He helps you out on and off the court.”

GRAB-AND-GO FREEDOM

Did you ever think you would see Cam Johnson bring the ball up to find Ricky Rubio for a three-pointer?

Is there some type of “Freaky Friday” body-switching hijinx going on here?

That’s a negative because we’ve now seen Bridges also grab-and-go off a rebound to run the offense, a ball screen via a trailing Deandre Ayton to find Rubio again.

This is a clear stylistic tweak in Orlando that I’m sure a few of you reading have already picked up on, one that assistant head coach Darko Rajakovic was pushing for to give them more versatility.

“Something that we’ve talked about,” Williams said.

“Dario has that ability and Mikal can handle well and I think it allows for us to take advantage of their skills. I think they’re getting more and more comfortable with it.”

Williams mentioned a key being spacing, wanting the primary ball-handlers like Rubio and Booker to get in their spots right away so the floor is open enough.

“It’s great,” Rubio said. “They have a high basketball IQ and that helps the whole team not put only pressure on only one guy to bring the ball up and try to get everybody involved. Now I can be on the other side too.”

Saric is the one guy in particular who has the true playmaking chops at his size.

“Now it’s more like everybody can be the point guard,” Rubio said.


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