EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Phoenix Suns rest key players in finale of regular season, fall to Kings
PHOENIX — Context is important, folks.
Pulling up a schedule and seeing the Phoenix Suns lose four of their last six games to end the regular season without any explanation could elicit the wrong type of reaction. All these two weeks were about was getting to the postseason in as best of shape as possible after achieving everything they could have.
Phoenix is nearly at the postseason after a 116-109 loss to the Sacramento Kings in the regular-season finale Sunday. The Suns will now wait until Friday night when the winner of the league’s final play-in game will determine their opponent in the first round.
The Suns rested Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Jae Crowder and Chris Paul. The lone starter to play, Mikal Bridges, logged six minutes to maintain his league-best ironman streak of 309 games.
Cam Johnson, the Suns’ best reserve and a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, logged 23 minutes to keep getting his conditioning back since injuring his quad, but both he and backup center JaVale McGee were not in for the fourth quarter.The other name missing, backup point guard Cam Payne, is taking care of a sore right knee that has kept him out the last two games.
That’s Phoenix’s core eight guys that will make up its playoff rotation when it really gets down to the nitty-gritty. Sunday was about giving everyone else an opportunity, from the guys that will likely play in the initial first-round rotation to others who haven’t gotten many chances this season.
Landry Shamet took advantage of that, scoring a season-high 27 points with five assists in 33 minutes. Shamet has shown this season that he is a rhythm-based player, so the guard performing like this in a game like this will definitely help him a week in the future.
“I just liked the fact that he just stayed with it,” head coach Monty Williams said of Shamet. “Wasn’t our best shooting night but one thing that we’ve always said to our guys: make or miss, you gotta let it fly. Shoot it with confidence.”
Shamet’s usage will be the most polarizing decision for Williams throughout the postseason. When Shamet’s on, he’s shown why he got a $43 million extension before even suiting up for the Suns. When he’s off, his production is really lacking and hurts the offense. How quickly Williams will pull the plug on his minutes this postseason will be interesting to see and is surely going to be a feeling-out process.
Shamet was one of seven Suns players in double figures. That included Iffe Lundberg, the Suns’ two-way addition that got 27 legitimate minutes under his belt. He contributed 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals, putting on display why Phoenix brought him in.
The Suns (64-18) never led Sunday’s game and were in constant pursuit of a Kings (30-52) team that shot 10-of-16 from 3-point range in the first half. Sacramento’s lead got as high as 19 and Phoenix’s back-half of the roster still managed to cut it down to a few possessions at different points, even though it was one of those nights the Suns just couldn’t knock down shots.
“I didn’t think we could throw it in the ocean for the most part tonight,” Williams said while also noting he liked the way his team competed.
With little-used lineups and players on the floor for the majority of the game, the Suns’ offense was going through the default motions, which in Williams’ system means lots of ball and player movement. That resulted in 47 attempts from deep but the Suns only converted on 14 of ’em (29.8%). The Kings ended the night at 14-for-26 (53.8%).