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Monty Williams: Suns rested, Booker still in ‘healing mode’ before ESPN contest against Celtics

It will likely be some more time before the Suns’ star guard returns to the floor

Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams has continuously joked that his coaches and players likely don’t miss him when they spend an extended time away from him. Thursday’s practice – the Suns’ first in two days – was no exception.

“I thought the guys were energized,” Williams said. “This is probably the first time in my coaching career where I’ve given two days off, but I feel like we needed it. I felt like the guys needed it, I felt like the coaches needed to get away from me and came in pretty juiced today.”

The Suns needed to re-energize themselves following a November and December span in which they played 19 games in 34 days. Time off has been difficult to find for Phoenix, which had just 92 days off following its 2021 NBA Finals appearance against the Milwaukee Bucks.

It was also beneficial for the Suns’ re-integration of starting shooting guard Devin Booker, who has not played since Nov. 30 due to a left hamstring injury. Williams told reporters following Thursday’s practice that Booker is “progressing day-by-day” but has not done any floor activity, including shooting drills.

“He’s still in that healing mode right now, so we’ll see how he feels going forward,” Williams said. “But it’s a day to day healing process.”

In the overwhelmingly likely event that Booker doesn’t play on Friday against the Boston Celtics, the Suns will almost certainly continue to start backup shooting guard Landry Shamet, who averaged 11.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists in the three games Booker has missed.

In those contests – in which Phoenix has gone 2-1 – its average effective field goal percentage has been 51.3 percent, according to Cleaning the Glass. In comparison, its percentage over its previous seven games was 58.4 percent, a sky-high clip in the latter stages of its franchise record-setting 18-game win streak.

Williams and Suns starting point guard Chris Paul indicated teams have been able to key in more on Paul – Phoenix’s primary playmaker who has averaged a league-leading 10.1 assists this season – leading to a minor dip in its offensive production. However, both men expressed confidence in the Suns’ ability to continue to make plays due to their offensive system, in which players look to dribble, pass or shoot within half a second.

“Honestly, we lean on Devin for a lot – scoring, playmaking, all that stuff,” Paul said. “So we’re always going to miss him, but the fact that we have a system, we just keep playing the right way.”

The Suns will need to keep playing the right way against the Celtics, who rank ninth in the NBA in defensive rating (107.1). Boston is currently tenth in the Eastern Conference with a 13-13 record but has two capable scorers with starting wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, something Williams mentioned on Thursday.

“They have two guys that can go get their own bucket, and so I’m sure they’re trying to balance it out (their offense under first-year coach Ime Udoka),” Williams said. “They don’t want to take away from Tatum’s ability and Brown’s ability to score the ball, but they’re also talking about moving it more. So we understand that.”

The Suns will look to win their 20th game in 21 tries against the Celtics on Friday night. The game will tip off at 8 p.m. MT on ESPN.

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