Suns’ swagger, focus and hunger have never been seen here

Mar 28, 2022, 7:29 PM
Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder, left, congratulates center Deandre Ayton at the end of the team's...

Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder, left, congratulates center Deandre Ayton at the end of the team's NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Been a lot of places. Seen a lot of things. But I’ve never experienced a team with better mojo than the 2021-22 Phoenix Suns.

They have won 61 of 75 games. They beat the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday like a python squeezing its prey. Entering Monday’s games, they were nine victories ahead of their nearest opponent in the Western Conference. They are overwhelming favorites to win an NBA title.

With any other team, you might worry about the pressure that comes with enormous expectations, about the growing target on their back. But not this group.

They seem to thrive on outside doubt, feasting on all cynicism.

They have learned to harness grudges, settle scores and sustain excellence.

They have the perfect mixture of youth and experience. They have the perfect blend of personalities, from the ruthless to the goofy.

They have no less than six players who might have their own unofficial fan clubs in the Valley. They are comfortable mingling with adoring masses at a lemonade stand as they are playing marquee games on national television.

Their swagger is palpable. Their focus no longer drifts. Their commitment to basketball is a reflection of their total commitment to each other.

Sounds sappy and trite. But the clichés are all true on teams with great chemistry.

These Suns were literally born in a bubble, a team fortuitously included in the NBA’s restart in Orlando. Since that time, their record is 134-43, playoffs included. By contrast, they won only 121 games in the previous five seasons combined.

They trust their general manager, James Jones, who played the game, won three titles and plugged all the necessary holes after a Finals loss to Milwaukee.

They trust their head coach, Monty Williams, a spiritual man versed in the art of servant leadership.

They trust each other to pass the ball and play defense. The latter is what sets this group apart from any other Suns team in the past, a franchise that didn’t always stress the virtues of locking down an opponent.

They have done all of this while dealing with a never-ending slate of injuries. They have done all of this while the NBA has conducted a behind-the-scenes investigation into Robert Sarver and his workplace culture.

Rev. Al Sharpton is currently leading an activist group demanding that Sarver be removed from the Suns’ ownership group. He has vowed to make that outcome a top priority, possibly bringing demonstrations to Phoenix if needed. Which means it might get noisy around the basketball team at the worst time, causing some level of distraction for the players.

You also get the idea that these Suns are too hungry to notice anything but their own mission and collective ambition.

They are facing a heavy internal decision down the stretch. The Suns have seven games remaining. They could attempt to finish with a 68-14 record, blowing away the existing franchise record (62 wins) and posting a victory total that has been equaled or surpassed only six times in NBA history. That’s a legacy statement, vaulting the Suns into the special fraternity of the greatest regular season teams in NBA history.

They could also end the regular season with 15 consecutive victories, after posting previous winning streaks of 18 and 11 games.

Or they could put their focus on rest and recuperation, taking a few games off before the grind of the NBA playoffs.

The hardcore nature of this team makes you believe they will not mess with the recipe or their current temperature, a team that feels more like an incinerator in recent weeks. This is not a group to back away from a challenge. This is a team has chosen to go far by going together. And we’ve never seen anything like them.

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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Suns’ swagger, focus and hunger have never been seen here