Suns’ Mikal Bridges expects battle with friend and Mavs G Jalen Brunson
Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges remembers cracking jokes with his friend and teammate Jalen Brunson in the locker room at Villanova moments after the pair competed like enemies on the practice floor.
Bridges told reporters on Saturday that the duo had some physical practices against one another, a dynamic stemmed from intense competitiveness shared by them.
The two won a pair of national titles with the Wildcats before moving onto the NBA. On Monday, they will face each other in the playoffs for the first time as the Suns host the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
Brunson reportedly told reporters that he loves Bridges, but the Suns wing is the enemy right now.
Bridges expects nothing else.
“We’re all competitive,” Bridges said. “I know JB, he’s not gonna see me and think he’s gonna take it lightly. He’s probably gonna turn it up another notch. … We’re both competing, but it’s great to be here with him.”
Both former Wildcats stepped up to close out their respective first series. Bridges had 31 points in Game 5 against the New Orleans Pelicans and contributed 18 more in the closeout Game 6.
Brunson scored 24 points in consecutive wins as Dallas finished off the Utah Jazz in six games.
The Mavericks guard scored 96 points in the first three games while superstar Luka Doncic was sidelined with a calf injury.
Bridges said that was not a surprise, praising Brunson’s ability to get his own bucket when called upon.
“I just know he knows if he was the dude with the ball more in his hands, he’s going to dominate,” Bridges said. “I know that, as well. Just to see that coming to light when Luka was out for a couple games and (Brunson) literally going bonkers, I was literally just like, ‘That’s who he is.'”
Brunson was the National Player of the Year in 2017-18 before falling to the second round of the NBA Draft. He did not regularly start games until this season.
The 6-foot-1 guard scored 18.3 points per game in three performances against the Suns this year.
“Jalen gets overlooked a lot,” Suns point guard Chris Paul said Sunday. “High IQ, always gonna be making winning plays.”
Paul has also known Brunson for a long time.
Brunson’s father, Rick, played in the NBA from 1998-2006. Paul and Rick Brunson shared an agent, Leon Rose, and worked out together for a summer.
“I’ve known Jalen since he was in high school,” Paul said. “I think it’s funny, what everybody is seeing now, we’ve known for a long time.”
Game 1 between Phoenix and Dallas starts Monday at 7 p.m. from Footprint Center.
You can tune in on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.