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Center of the Sun: Suns begin a tough week against Clippers, Blazers, Wizards, Hornets

Your weekly roundup of Suns news, rumors, notes and videos from the prior week plus a preview of the week to come.

Boston Celtics v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs W (108-104) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Boston Celtics W (111-90) Full Recap

With the Warriors’ timely loss to Philadelphia on Saturday, the Suns find themselves back in sole possession of the best record in the West and in the NBA. Although their lead over the Warriors is just a half game, it’s always best to be on top and defending a lead rather than behind playing catch-up. With the return times of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton still up in the air, it’s even more important than usual.

The Suns have played well without Book and DA with the scoring load collectively being picked up by several players and strong team defense played by all. The best thing of all is that Chris Paul - nearing his 37th birthday - hasn’t been forced to play excessive minutes over the last 4 games. For the season CP3 is averaging 32.3 minutes per game. Over the last 4 games he’s averaged just 32.7, less than a half a minute per game increase in court time.

While the Suns certainly don’t want to rush Booker back following a hamstring injury, I’m equally certain that they don’t want CP3 having to play excessive minutes to stay afloat during his absence. So far they have managed to avoid doing either but a relatively light schedule last week helped a lot.

That ends today as the Suns face four games this week, including a back-to-back on the road, against stiffer competition.

Ayton (illness) could return tonight but there’s no timetable for Book as recovery from hamstring injuries is sometimes a slow process. We can only be glad that he didn’t injure it severely and hope for him to heal fully ASAP. Once they’re both back, I wouldn’t disagree with Monty if he decided to give CP3 a full game off just to rest up.

The Suns might also be adding some new help later this week as Wednesday is the day on which most players signed during the offseason can be traded. I don’t expect the Suns to make a trade quickly and I don’t expect it to be a big one if something does happen but you never know what might come to be. Other teams might call wanting to pull the trigger on a trade now and if James Jones is offered a deal too good to pass up... ?


Game Highlights

SPURS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | December 6, 2021

Chris Paul (21 PTS, 10 AST) Comes in Clutch vs. Spurs

Jae Crowder Scores a Season-high 19 Points vs. the Spurs

CELTICS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | December 10, 2021

JaVale McGee (21 PTS 15 REB) Gets the Start and Steps up vs. Celtics.


Key Stats

105.0 ppg (1st 2 games w/o Book) vs 109.5 ppg (last 2 w/o Book)

107.1 OffRtg (22nd) vs 109.0 OffRtg (16th)

111.6 DefRtg (16th) vs 97.0 DefRtg (1st)

Again it’s an extremely small sample size for this week but the figures above indicate that the Suns have rapidly begun to adapt to playing with Devin Booker sidelined. The team’s defensive effort has played a big part in keeping the Suns at the top of the standings and the scoring load has been shared by multiple players with 8 players averaging double-digit scoring over the last two games and 7 doing so in the last game without Book and DA.

Random stats: JaVale McGee’s per-36 stats of 23.7 ppg and 16.5 rpg with the Suns are the best of his 14 year career. His regular per-game averages of 10.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg are his best since his 2018-19 season with LAL when he started and averaged playing 6.4 more minutes per game. Although only 9th in minutes per game (18.4), Cam Payne is 4th in FG attempts per game (9.4) but 12th in FG% (38.5%).


Quotes of the Week

“I want to be the best young two-way player in the league where I’m controlling the game even if I ain’t scoring the ball.” - Deandre Ayton

“We have guys that don’t like to sit out, so we have to err on the side of extreme caution with our guys because they won’t sit out.” - Monty Williams

“JaVale (McGee) always says that we’re the best team in the world. And we try to go out there and hold ourselves to that standard.” - Elfrid Payton


Injury Status Report

Deandre Ayton (Illness) Game Time Decision.

Devin Booker (Hamstring) Expected to be out until at least December 14.

Abdel Nader (Knee) Expected to be out until at least December 14.

Frank Kaminsky (Knee) Expected to be out until at least January 10.

Dario Saric (Knee) Expected to be out until at least April 1.


News & Notes

JaVale McGee provides much-needed championship experience for Suns. Yardbarker

Everything In Place. NBA.com

Suns’ Deandre Ayton: ‘I’m just putting my head down and working’. The Undefeated

Suns coach Monty Williams reveals strange Gregg Popovich coaching style that molded his future. Clutch Points

Suns Star Recalls Knicks’ Kevin Knox Draft: ‘Thought I Was Going to NY’. Heavy.com


This Week in Suns History

On December 16, 2017, with Devin Booker sidelined with an injury, the 10-20 Suns defeated the 17-12 Minnesota Timberwolves in Minnesota 108-106 in a game where the Suns’ bench outscored their starters 69-39. Dragan Bender and Troy Daniels led the Suns in scoring with 17 points each. Isaiah Canaan added 15 points and his 7 assists equaled the total number of assists by the starting 5. Alex Len added a double-double with 12 points and 19 rebounds. T.J. Warren led the starters with 15 points on a 4 of 14 (28.6%) shooting night while making 7 of 8 from the FT line.

The starting unit went 0-7 from three while the bench was 11-17 (64.7%). Every single bench player’s FG% was .600 or above while only Josh Jackson (4 of 9, 44.4%) shot above 30% for the starters. On this night the Suns bench led the starters in every single statistical category except offensive rebounds (7-6 in favor of the starters).


Suns Trivia

During the Boston Celtics game, Mikal Bridges accumulated his 500th career assist.

Ish Wainright’s grandfather, Maurice King, played for two seasons in the NBA with the Boston Celtics (1959-60) and the Chicago Zyphyrs (1962-63) and two more with Kansas City in the now defunct ABL. He also played college ball at the University Of Kansas where he was a teammate of NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, Dec. 13 - Phoenix Suns @ LA Clippers 8:30 pm AZT (NBA TV)

Tuesday, Dec. 14 - Phoenix Suns @ Portland Trail Blazers 8:00 pm AZT (TNT)

Thursday, Dec. 16 - Phoenix Suns vs Washington Wizards 7:00 pm AZT

Sunday, Dec. 19 - Phoenix Suns vs Charlotte Hornets 6:00 pm AZT

The Suns have a full four games this week starting with a back-to-back on the road followed by two at home.

The Suns first head out to LA for their first meeting of the season with the 15-12 Clippers. They are on a 3-game win streak even though Paul George has missed their last two games with a bruised elbow. He and starting PF Nicolas Batum (ankle) are listed as game time decisions in this one as is DA for the Suns. The Clips are a strong defensive team (4th) but have been sub-par offensively this season (25th). I don’t expect a high scoring game but I believe the Suns can get the win especially if DA is back on the court.

After a quick overnight flight to Portland, the Suns play their 3rd game of the season against the 11-15 Trail Blazers. To be blunt, the Blazers are terrible defensively (28th) but still have an offense that can put up a lot of points on any given night. On the second night of a B2B on the road, they could be a problem for the Suns, especially if Booker is still out. If Book is playing, I think the Suns win. If he’s still out, I believe it’s a 50-50 game that could go either way.

On Thursday the Suns are back home to face the 15-12 Washington Wizards. The Wiz got off to a hot start this season but have cooled off considerably lately going 4-6 in their last 10 games. Offensively (21st) and defensively (16th) they are no match for the Suns and I expect Phoenix to please the home crowd with another win in this one.

Finally, on Sunday the Suns match up with the 15-13 Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets are 2-5 in their last 7 games but have had several players - including LaMelo Ball - out due to COVID. All are presently due to return before Sundays’ game so expect an uptick in their performance by time they come to Phoenix. Also expect former Sun Kelly Oubre Jr to return with a chip still firmly on his shoulder. Oubre has rediscovered his game with the Hornets and has been averaging 22.8 ppg while hitting 50.3% from the field and 40.6% from three in his last 10 games. Although defensively challenged (29th), the Hornets have the 2nd best offense in the NBA and lead the league in scoring with 115.8 points per game. If Book is back for this game, I call it a Suns win. If not, I’m just not sure that the Suns’ offense can score enough points to win.

This week I predict the Suns will win at least 2 games and, if Book returns soon, they win at least one of the 50-50 games to go 3-1.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

January 5 - 10-day contracts may now be signed.

January 10 - All Standard NBA contracts are guaranteed for the remainder of the season.

January 15 - All players signed during offseason can be traded. Last day to apply for a disabled player exception.

January 20 - All Two-Way Contracts are guaranteed for the remainder of the season.

February 10 - NBA Trade Deadline (3 p.m. ET).

February 18-23 - NBA All-Star break.

February 20 - NBA All-Star Game.

March 1 - Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

April 10 - Regular season ends.

April 12-15 - Play-In Tournament.

April 16 - Playoffs begin.

May 17 - NBA Draft Lottery.

June 23 - NBA Draft.