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Phoenix Suns have next 2 days to tidy up late-game details

Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) drives between Phoenix Suns' Jevon Carter (4) and Abdel Nader during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Pick a few late plays from each of the Phoenix Suns’ last five games, and you could argue they should be 4-1 over than stretch instead of 1-4. Those plays you highlight could be any of bad plays, bad injuries or bad officiating.

The Suns see it optimistically, at least.

With a condensed schedule, their back-to-back home set against the Denver Nuggets over the weekend preceded a day off Sunday, leaving two full days to practice before a Wednesday game against point guard Chris Paul’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It’ll also give them two more days to rest and recover a depleted lineup.

Devin Booker’s status after he pulled a hamstring on Friday remains uncertain. Bigs Dario Saric and Damian Jones remain under the NBA’s health and safety protocols, and a few days of work could help rookie big man Jalen Smith get his wind back after just returning to action Saturday. He was out with a bout of COVID-19 and dealt with a sprained ankle.

Monday and Tuesday is about refining some details that have killed Phoenix in a series of close games lately.

“I see what our team is capable of and once we make this little tweak here or tweak there … then it’s the belief in knowing you can win,” Paul said Monday. “That’s very important for a team. I think it’ll be huge for us to pull out a few of these games, and then it’ll be this confidence that we have going into games.

“Once that happens, I think we’ll be alright.”

Looking ahead, Phoenix hosts the Thunder on Wednesday and then the Golden State Warriors on Thursday before heading to Dallas for a Saturday-Monday set of games.

What individual plays have gone wrong for the Suns (8-7) over their recent stretch since they sat out an entire week due to coronavirus protocols?

There was Devin Booker leaving Grayson Allen for a wide open three with a minute to play in the Suns’ Jan. 18 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Two games back, on Friday against the Nuggets, Booker went down with a hamstring injury with two minutes left in an overtime loss.

Then last game, also against the Nuggets, Jamal Murray faded away for an overtime-forcing three with Suns center Deandre Ayton bearing down on him. Phoenix fell by eight points in double overtime and lost a grip on a tight one when Ayton fouled out.

Poor referee calls and player absences aside, the defense has fallen off at key moments.

Since the Grizzlies game that marked Phoenix’s return from a coronavirus-imposed break, the Suns have played 30 clutch minutes where they’ve allowed 47.8% shooting and 71 combined points.

Phoenix players feel good they have time to make corrections toward that end and others before playing an Oklahoma City team that Paul helped find that winning confidence a year ago.

“Every game we fight, we fight hard,” guard Jevon Carter said. “Sometimes we just make a few mistakes that late in the game, they cost us. To be good in this league, you can’t make those, those simple mistakes.

“I feel like we correct those, we win these close games that we’re losing down the stretch.”


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