Suns reset after conclusion of winning streak; Ish Wainright gets run
PHOENIX — Following two games across four days on a big stage against the Golden State Warriors in the middle of a franchise-record winning streak, it feels like the Phoenix Suns are back to the regular grind of the regular season after a brief detour of something more grand.
That, of course, is not how it feels to them.
They were rarely talking or thinking about the 18 wins in a row that ended Friday at Golden State, and all of the national attention to the matchup of the Western Conference’s two best teams is just about irrelevant to them. The Suns just saw the Warriors games as individual matchups against a championship-caliber opponent. Shooting guard Devin Booker laughed before the first meeting at the way one question was phrased, joking that it was as if it was the Finals.
Coincidentally, the schedule now lightens up a whole lot.
The loss to the Warriors on Friday in San Francisco was the Suns’ fourth straight week with a back-to-back that concluded on the road. There was also the stretch with no more than one day off over 15 games in 26 days. Following a 118-96 loss to the Warriors on Friday, the Suns only play two games over nine days, both in Phoenix.
The Suns’ post-practice shooting on Sunday had only 11 players getting shots up. There was no Devin Booker (left hamstring), Chandler Hutchison (G League assignment), Abdel Nader (right knee), Frank Kaminsky (right knee) or Dario Saric (right knee).
Those last two names are ruled out indefinitely, while Booker and Nader are not going to play on Monday against the San Antonio Spurs.
Head coach Monty Williams said those two are doing their best to get healthy again through treatment.
Because of how daunting November was from a scheduling perspective, the Suns barely had any opportunities to practice.
Williams spent part of Sunday with the team talking about areas of slippage in the last couple of games they weren’t addressing as much because they came in wins.
“We want to be able to win games and learn. And all of our guys agree that there’s some things we can do better,” he said. “We were just winning so many games and playing so many games — didn’t have the practice time. Today was one of the first days we were able to get on the floor for over an hour and really go take a deep dive on both ends of the floor to try and get better.”
This practice time is, undoubtedly, going to help rookie wing Ish Wainright the most.
The 27-year-old on a two-way contract was a surprise call-up into the rotation when the injuries left Williams with only eight guys to turn to from his usual bunch. Wainright signed with the Suns six weeks ago and made his NBA debut on Nov. 19 before playing four minutes in Thursday’s win over the Detroit Pistons and nine more on Friday.
“It felt good. I think he had to call my name about three times, I’m not even gonna lie to you,” Wainright said with a smile and laugh.
When you zoom out and analyze the timeline we’ve been discussing, there hasn’t been much practice time for Wainright to go through, especially lately with an injury-riddled group that has him now in a position to get reps. Williams has admitted they’re still getting to know his game.
“When we watch him in practices and when he’s playing 3-on-3, 4-on-4, he’s in the right spot a lot, he’s physical, he can stay in front of the ball, he has the ability to knock down a shot — he’s just solid,” Wiliams said. “But he’s tough.”
Wainright is listed at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and has shoulders that could support a sedan. He’s undersized for a modern wing given how long and athletic your typical 3s and 4s are, but Wainright is a good athlete who can move his feet.
The four-year player at Baylor from 2013-17 has spent time as a pro playing in Germany and France before finally finding a spot on an NBA roster. While it’s unfair to go off his numbers from four years ago because of the potential growth he’s had since, he hardly shot three-pointers for the Bears, so we’ll wait and see how the jumper looks in his next couple of stints. For now, it’s more about his ball skills and ability to make quick decisions.
We got a good sign of those on Thursday in a transition opportunity when he made a pass that Williams said they hadn’t gotten an inkling of yet that Wainright could make, and because we know the James Jones type, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
He forced a turnover on Friday after some great verticality at the rim.
It’ll be great for the team to fill in the hole of the rotation with a guy who is going to, you would think given his road to the NBA, bring unmatched energy.
“I could not stop shaking. I was so excited to be out there … I did whatever I could to impact the game,” Wainright said Sunday.