EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Young Phoenix Suns have been prepped for what to expect in playoffs

May 21, 2021, 4:08 PM

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns talks with Deandre Ayton #22 and Mikal Bridges #25 during the N...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns talks with Deandre Ayton #22 and Mikal Bridges #25 during the NBA game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns Arena on April 02, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Thunder 140-103. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It was a fortunate turn for the Phoenix Suns to get the type of schedule they got, with a handful of highly competitive opponents in April to get them ready for playoff basketball.

The playoff-like atmosphere was referenced by the team a few times throughout that stretch.

They were even talking about it in the huddle.

Wing Torrey Craig, who was a part of the Denver Nuggets’ run to the Western Conference Finals last year, said there would be moments in the game where a playoff-type situation was happening and the vets would bring it up.

“‘Hey, this is what the playoffs (are) like. We need a stop right here,'” he said Tuesday. “‘Momentum change, we need to find a way to respond from their run.'”

But point guard Chris Paul has been the first to say there’s nothing that gets you ready for the playoffs until you experience it for the first time, and Craig admitted those moments were only close to the real deal.

Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson will get that real deal on Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

It is viewed as one of the weaknesses of the team heading into the postseason, and rightfully so given how important it is.

While they haven’t experienced it yet, they know what to expect.

“Everybody says playoff basketball is two different sports … Just feeling it throughout the locker room, feeling the intensity in the details, picking up on every possession — just having a mentality that every possession matters,” Booker said Friday. “Not saying every game does, but a lot of these games come down to one, two or three deciding possessions.”

Veteran wing Jae Crowder and his 72 career playoff games had him telling the players to take advantage of the week without games, to get themselves right mentally and physically for what’s ahead.

The team watched Wednesday’s play-in between the Lakers and Golden State Warriors together and Booker picked up on a few things just from that.

“Seeing the physicality, the play-through calls, having a short memory of going to the next play and understanding the ultimate goal is to win the basketball game,” he said.

Backup point guard Cameron Payne was watching those possessions and was in those huddles for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016 when they made it to the Western Conference Finals.

Even in a role where he was at the end of the bench, Payne picked up a ton he’s taking into his first playoff go as a real contributor.

“Paying attention to detail,” he said Friday of what’s the most important. “Detail is a big part of the playoffs, knowing what the other team does … Details is the main thing and I feel like imma be ready in that aspect. Knowing what we have to do defensively, offensively — it’s just a lot of little things that separate teams.”

The message is clearly getting through to the younger players of what’s coming.

“Every possession matters. Playing hard. It’s going to be more physical,” Bridges said Wednesday. “I’m ready.”

Ditto for Ayton.

“I don’t know what to expect, man. I just know it’s going to be super intense and it’s gonna be serious and really a mental focus … I’m ready to take that next step,” he said Wednesday.

Some of the conversation surrounding the Suns’ first-round matchup with the Lakers has been how unfortunate the draw was for Phoenix.

While that’s true, Booker doesn’t see it that way. It’s special for him to make his debut against a franchise like the Lakers, against all-time players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“100%,” he said when asked if that’s the case. “I’m grateful for the opportunity, and it’s time. This is what I’ve been waiting on. This is what we’ve been talking about. This is what we’ve put a lot of extreme work into. To get to this point. So it’s an exciting time.”

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Young Phoenix Suns have been prepped for what to expect in playoffs