The Phoenix Suns have already lost All-Star Chris Paul to a right thumb injury, and now they will be without their other All-Star in Devin Booker due to testing positive for COVID-19.
Booker now enters the league’s health and safety protocols. As a vaccinated player, Book can return faster than the ‘old days’. He only needs to test negative twice in a row, at least 24 hours apart, while also not exhibiting any symptoms. Every person is different, though, and how Book feels while positive for COVID will have an impact on the return-to-play timeline.
Meanwhile, the Suns will have to try to win games without both Book and CP for the first time in years.
You can expect Book to be out at least a week (players can return as early as a week after testing positive) but possibly a couple of weeks.
How will the Suns handle playing games without both Book and CP?
My first guess is that you can expect both Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet in the starting lineup for the Suns. Monty Williams already said yesterday that he wants Cameron Johnson back in the second unit to stabilize their scoring and overall level of play.
Payne is slated to return for the first time in six weeks just as Paul and Booker go down, and Shamet himself just recently returned from an ankle injury of his own.
Now the Sham-Payne backcourt needs to step up for the Suns.
This is Shamet’s chance to step up. If he fails to deliver, the Suns have depth. They can play a lot more Aaron Holiday (37% three point shooter) and Cameron Johnson (43%) in his minutes, while Torrey Craig takes more of Johnson’s forward minutes.
I will cover Payne later today, but suffice to say I’m excited about what Payne can bring to this team down the stretch.
Luckily, the Suns can afford to lose a few games if that’s what happens. They still have a 6.5 game lead on the rest of the West with only 21 games to go, and the Warriors — that team that’s 6.5 back — has been losing a ton of games of their own lately, losers of 6 of their last 8 including a blowout loss to the Timberwolves last night.
Still, the Suns don’t want to just fall apart.
They still have Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson. They’ve got a strong bench. They have a lot of depth.
And their competition is not that stiff.
- The Portland Trailblazers, tonight’s opponent, is tanking the season already with a starting lineup you may not even recognize
- Friday’s opponent, the Knicks, are struggling to win too
After that, things get tougher for the Suns. They play 11 of 15 games on the road, starting in Milwaukee on Sunday, and 13 of 19 overall on the road to finish the season. Still, the opponents are not difficult, as the Suns have the 11th easiest remaining schedule per tankathon.com even considering the road/home shift.
All the Suns need to do is win half their games the rest of the season to keep that top seed, which is plenty of time to get both their All-Stars back for the playoffs. An 11-10 finish secures the Suns a 60-win season.
Can anyone catch or pass them?
Golden State would have to go 17-3 to hit 60 wins and take the top seed (they have the tiebreaker). Tankathon.com has the Warriors with the 8th most difficult remaining schedule, and as I wrote above they’ve lost 6 of 8.
The Memphis Grizzlies is ROLLING but would have to go 18-2, and needs to beat the Suns twice to get the tiebreaker. Tankathon.com has the Grizzlies with the 2nd easiest remaining schedule, but 18-2 is a tall order even for them.
The Jazz would need to go 22-0.
Just hold the line, Suns.
Hold the line.