Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Or perhaps it was Voltaire.
The Phoenix Suns, following a 130-117 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, are feeling that power. They have the power over their destiny (albeit they still need a little help from Milwaukee and/or Brooklyn), the power to be the only undefeated team in the Orlando, and the power to evoke the change of perception pertaining to basketball in Phoenix.
Is it just me, or are you too finding yourself receiving texts from friends you didn’t even know were Suns fans. I have people reaching out to me that I haven’t heard from in a decade to discuss the Suns, their lineup choices, and the 7-0 Orlando performance.
“Bandwagoners” or not, all are welcome to revel in the recent success of the Suns. I welcome the added exposure to our beloved Suns. Phoenix is and always will be a basketball town first. Since ‘68, baby!
This run has been an unreal experience. In a year in which everything is sideways, why wouldn’t it be the year that Phoenix does the unthinkable?
So you’re giving us a chance...
Entering the bubble, we knew that opportunity was present. While some thought Phoenix should not be invited, and others gave the Suns a <1% chance to snag the 8 seed, we knew that the chance to play was a valuable experience. It would allow Monty Williams a chance to develop this young team, to provide minutes that carried weight, and to mold them into better players.
Easier said than done, of course.
The dedication Monty has displayed to moving the franchise forward and fortifying a culture cannot be overlooked. From pool days to movie nights, rotation modifications to halftime adjustments; the growth of Monty Williams as a first-year head coach (the longest first-year in NBA history due to COVID) is spectacular to watch.
The team has responded to Monty’s approach. They find themselves undefeated in Orlando thus far and vying for a possible playoff berth.
“We didn’t come in here to win eight games in a row,” Devin Booker stated. “We just want to win one game eight times.”
The last time this team rattled off seven wins in a row was the last time they sniffed the postseason: 2010.
The Suns are embracing the challenge set forth before them. Phoenix is turning heads on a national level. Heck, I think they earned the 11th highlight on ESPN last night.
“Everybody in the league can look at at us and see that we haven’t lost here,” Monty said following the victory over Philly. “That puts a target on our back.”
If Monty stays true to his approach, that target may grow larger. Why? Because the winning will continue.
Gone are the days...
Monty has fine tuned his rotations to an art. No longer are we seeing Elie Okobo first off the bench to spell Ricky Rubio. Thank God.
The team is clicking on all cylinders. When the first team comes out, the second team has provided a spark. In games in which Devin Booker or Deandre Ayton are in foul trouble, the bench has carried the load to victory.
His decision to move Dario Saric to the second team unit, opting to start rookie Cameron Johnson in his place, cannot be understated. Dario started 50 of 58 games played prior to the bubble, averaging 10.1 points-per-game. He is averaging 14.6 points-per-game in the bubble.
“The first unit is more focusing to feed Book. The second unit, we try to play for each other,” Saric said. “If someone is having a good game we try to find them. I think we are doing good, doing a great job in that second unit.”
His highest scoring output came in the Suns victory over his former team, the 76ers. He scored 18 points on 7-9 shooting, including 2-2 from beyond the arc. “I got hot,” he noted. “I think the game is open for me. Other guys are focusing on Book. Try to crash every time offensive rebounds. The second unit brought the score back. It’s not just me. I think the other guys played good.”
“Dario’s play he’s been a bit of an x-factor for us,” said Monty Williams.
The emergence of an All-Star
The growth of Devin Booker continues. The national media, who has longed viewed Booker as a ‘good stats, bad team’ guy, is learning what Suns fans and his teammates have know for a while: this dude is legit.
Booker has a unique ability to score in a plethora of ways is. This play against Philly, in which Booker carried the defender on his hip, is yet another example of his offensive maturation.
“It’s just amazing, fun to watch and play with him,” Dario observed. “He’s just a guy who wants to prove every night he’s the man.”
“A lot of people are just starting to see,” Mikal Bridges added. “I’ve been seeing this a long time now for two years. He’s leading by example.”
Monty Williams has placed Devin in a situation in which he can thrive and be successful. The team’s performance around Booker has allowed him to save his energy on offense and focus (a little bit more) on defense. Both he and Monty have confidence in the players around Booker.
A leader of men has the unique challenge of providing motivation, ensuring accountability, providing the tools to be successful, and preparing them for obstacles they may face. The job Monty has done in all of these aspects is beyond commendable.
“I think we just figured out that if you come in, play the game the right way, communicate with each other, you can win basketball games,” Booker said. “We haven’t taken any short cuts.”
“There’s a thin line between winning and losing,” he added. “We haven’t skipped steps. We haven’t taken any short cuts. That’s been the reason for our success.”
Let’s go for 8-0
8-0 is on the table. The Suns have the chance to go undefeated and earn a play-in spot. Standing between them and a play-in spot is the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday afternoon.
“We are here to win,” Mikal stated. “And this one (Thursday) is the biggest one. Go out there and have the mentality to stay together and do what we are doing.”
The Suns defeated the Mavericks 117-115 to move to 2-0 in the bubble earlier this month. Are they a team that now, following a loss to Portland on Tuesday, will use this game as a chance to rest their starters? The Mavericks no longer have a chance to overtake the Utah Jazz for the #6 seed, thus avoiding a clash with the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
Regardless of the Mavs roster decisions, the Suns are looking forward to the chance of running the table.
“These are the games I’ve been waiting to play in,” Devin Booker said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“Every game until now is the ‘game of the season’, but this one is most important,” Bridges added. “If we go 8-0 we go 8-0 we did our thing. If we don’t make it we don’t make it.”
You can not quantify the importance of the Suns resurgence. Again, this is a basketball town. The joy their recent performance provides and the excitement around the Valley is the positivity we all are in dire need of.
“I don’t think there’s gonna be any sad faces around here, whether we make the playoffs or not,” Booker said. “We’ve put the work in, we’ve grown as a team, took tremendous strides that I think will build for us for continuing years to come.”
Regardless of the outcome, the time in Orlando has done nothing but benefit the Suns. The exposure the team has received, from Monty’s coaching to the Suns intros on Thursday night, has been positive. Players watching now see Phoenix in a different light. Perhaps this run catches the eye of an impending free-agent and influences his decision. Perhaps the Suns will build on this run and carry that momentum into next season.
We’ll all be eagerly watching on Thursday to see if they complete what was deemed impossible. The fact that we are even discussing it is amazing.