EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns keep practice light while mindful of playoff race, stretch run

Aug 9, 2020, 1:59 PM
(Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)...
(Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
(Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)

During practice on Sunday, the Phoenix Suns were not talking about what had to be at the forefront of their minds.

The Suns still need some help to make the play-in tournament for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, even if they were to finish 8-0 after winning the first five.

Any win for the Memphis Grizzlies in their last three games meant the Suns couldn’t catch them, but only one more Portland Trail Blazers loss would have the Suns in if they won out.

Head coach Monty Williams said the coaching staff has not brought up any of these scenarios once. Sunday’s practice was “very, very light” and focused on Monday’s opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

While Williams is trying to maintain a message to his team and won’t admit he’s probably watching like everyone else, his players would.

“Definitely been tuned in knowing the situations, and in a weird way, rooting for what teams to win,” wing Mikal Bridges said Sunday.

“In a funny way, I’m a big Sixers fan today. Rooting for them today, and that’s kind of weird to say, but it looks like I’m rooting for them.”

That’s weird for him to say because Bridges was traded by his hometown 76ers, who play Portland Sunday afternoon, during the 2018 NBA Draft. One of the many strange turns of that night from the Suns’ perspective was the story of Bridges’ mom working for the 76ers organization and how happy the family was to have Mikal in Philadelphia, only for him to be traded to Phoenix.

“We’ve really been trying to take care of things on our end,” wing Cam Johnson said. “Obviously, coming in we needed a little bit of help. So right now we are a fan of some other teams, as weird as it may be.”

The Suns being the lone unbeaten team in the bubble is stunning enough already, but especially as a young team in the middle of a playoff race with no margin for error. On top of that, it’s how they are winning.

Each victory has had its stretches lacking in execution, where the Suns are “winning ugly,” not because of how crisp the play has been.

That is something that’s particularly valuable to them as an inexperienced team, teaching themselves they can win those types of games.

“It helps a lot,” Johnson said. “The way we came out of those stretches was just by playing hard.

“It kind of sent a message to us that, ‘Hey, even if things are getting a little ugly, if we play hard we can cover up for some of that’ and that’s what we’ve been doing these past couple of games. It gives me a lot of confidence in particular because I know that if I go in there and the shot’s not falling or anything, just continue to play hard and things will start to work out.”

That’s something they’ll need over the closing stretch of three games in four days, a trio of games they’ll likely need to sweep in order to keep playing in Orlando.

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