DAN BICKLEY

Chris Paul’s thumb injury could be trouble for Suns if prolonged

Feb 22, 2022, 1:10 PM | Updated: 1:52 pm
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns reacts after an injury to his hand and a technical-foul during th...
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns reacts after an injury to his hand and a technical-foul during the second half of the NBA game against the Houston Rockets at Footprint Center on February 16, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Rockets 124-121. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Over two seasons in Phoenix, Chris Paul has exceeded all expectations, elevated every teammate and helped erase a toxic culture that once grounded the entire organization.

And now we have yet another favor to ask:

Heal fast.

“We all know Chris pushes the limits,” Suns general manager James Jones said Tuesday. “If he were to come back earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised. But we expect to have him down the stretch.”

After injuring his thumb in the last regular season game before the NBA All-Star break, Paul is facing considerable downtime just as the NBA braces for its stretch run. He will be re-evaluated again in 6-8 weeks.

The prognosis is troubling, if only because the playoffs begin within that time frame, landing on the dash between the 6-8 weeks.

If Paul can return sooner rather than later, with a few games remaining on the regular season schedule, this injury might be a blessing. It guarantees he will have fresh legs, well-rested for a playoff grind that took its toll on an aging point guard in the previous postseason. Meanwhile, the rest of his teammates will be hardened by the experience, tested by adversity.

But if Paul returns after the playoffs begin, it might be another cursed turn for a franchise still seeking its first NBA championship at age 54. It might even make the team vulnerable to a first-round upset, depending on the opponent.

That would be disastrous.

For now, there doesn’t seem to be much internal concern. Jones sounded very optimistic on Tuesday during his Newsmakers Week appearance on Bickley & Marotta. Head coach Monty Williams actually let Paul play a couple of minutes in Sunday’s All-Star game, a bizarre scene that only made Suns fans even more anxious.

But Paul is no stranger to hand and wrist injuries, even joking that his current doctor is practically a family member by this point.

“Chris plays every game and every minute hard and full throttle with pure passion and intensity,” Jones said. “So you know if you play at this level, injuries will come. You hope that they aren’t extended injuries. But you know they come. So he’s been through this long enough to know this isn’t a season-ending injury. And it’s to his hand, so the rest of his body is fine.

“He’ll be able to condition himself. It will just be timing. And we know if there’s anyone in this league that’s the master of timing, its Chris Paul.”

James has done his part. He has built his masterpiece with this roster, and the Suns have plenty of depth to withstand Paul’s prolonged absence. They have a foothold on the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, possessing a 6.5-game lead on the second-place Warriors.

If Paul can get back in time to catch his rhythm before the playoffs, the Suns should have few issues remaining atop the West and pursuing a championship.

But anything longer becomes a problem because Paul is central to almost everything the team does well. For instance, he has been instrumental in launching the team’s trio of dominant big men in 2021-22: Ayton, JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo. Their nightly feedings are about to get interrupted. How will they flourish without Paul?

And if you think it’s just a matter of replacing statistics, you’ve been missing just how good Paul has been in 2021-22, where he ranks 429th in total points scored but seventh in points scored during the fourth quarter. Where his 152 fourth-quarter assists is the best in the NBA, and the next closest total is 90 (Dejounte Murray).

Paul has never been a better closer, whether it’s by himself or for his teammates. And it’s hard to stage a master class on winning when you’re missing the guy who was writing the textbook.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6-10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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