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Center of the Sun: Free throws, brawls, and defining wants versus needs for the Suns

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

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Phoenix Suns v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Current Record: 38-33, 4th seed in the Western Conference

Offensive Rating: 114.0 (15th, ↓3)

Defensive Rating: 112.2 (6th, —)

Net Rating: +1.9 (9th, —)

Four games went down in Week 22 and we were once again reminded of the duality of the Phoenix Suns. Good against bad teams, bad against good teams. Phoenix is 15-20 this season against teams over .500 and 23-13 against teams under .500. This week mirrored that as the Suns went 0-2 against the two teams they played over .500 an 1-1 against “lesser competition”, although the Thunder are in the playoff hunt.

Losing to Golden State was frustrating, but the loss to the Bucks was downright traumatic. I had some 2021 Finals PTSD watching the game as Giannis shot 24 free throws to the Suns’ 16. Milwaukee had 37 total free throws in the game. I was curled in a cold corner of my room, shaking with the windows open, allowing the cool March breeze to fill the air.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Suns were losing in the NBA Finals to the same team and running into the same issue: not getting the calls and not getting to the line. The Bucks infamously outshot the Suns from the line 140-105 in that series. >>shiver, shiver<<

Antetokounmpo can bulldoze defenders like Bo Jackson on the goal line, decimating linebackers in his path, and it was a foul on Phoenix. He can knock out Torrey Craig’s teeth. And it was a foul on Phoenix.

After a hard fought win against the Magic, the Suns were once again pondering how to stop free-throw baiters from achieving their goal. Phoenix pissed away a 15-point lead against the Thunder as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went for 40 points, 16 of which were made on his 19 free-throw attempts. It’s not why Phoenix lost, but being out-shot by 12 at the line again is just getting old.

We’ve talked all year long – and for the better part of two seasons – about how little Phoenix gets to the free-throw line. Part of it is the offensive design. The ‘Masters of the Mid-Range’ carry that moniker due to their affinity for shooting from outside the paint. They’d rather take a 12-footer than attack the basket.

The Suns have attempted 33.4 field goals inside 10 feet this season, the fourth fewest in the NBA. That is generally where fouls are called, when an offensive player attacks and is contacted. So it make sense that they do not get to the line with acceptable frequency.

I went on a little journey on Saturday afternoon, dissecting statistics from Basketball-Reference. I broke down every team’s total free-throw attempts versus free-throw attempts against, and sorted to see who has had the most games in which they have shot more free throws than the opposition.

The raw results weren’t necessarily surprising. The Suns have the fourth worst percentile of games in which this occurs. It’s happened in 23 of the Suns’ games; 33% of the time.

I know this isn’t a holistic statistic as there’s numerous factors as to what causes free-throw attempts. As indicated above, shooting inside of 10 feet and attacking the cylinder is one of them. And we know that Phoenix doesn’t do that as often as other teams do.

That being said, the amount of games in which the free throw disparity occurs is staggering. The Suns have been outshot from the line by 10 or more attempts 22 times! Conversely, Phoenix has outshot the opponent by 10 or more from the charity stripe 5 times.

It still amazes me how the Suns simply don’t get the calls. Apparently it amazes Monty Williams as well. “It’s ridiculous. There’s no other way to put it,” Monty said of Giannis’ attempts.

Player of the Week

Devin Booker

31.8 points, 4 rebounds, 1.8 assists

54.3 FG%, 35.3 3PT%, 87.5 FT%

Booker scored 127 points in Week 22, and he needs to average 23.8 points for the remainder of the season to pass Tom Chambers’ single-season Suns scoring average record of 27.17 points-per-game. Will it count? Booker will have played in 55 games, which is 67% of the season. 70% is what ESPN counts (that’s why DA is the tip scorer on the team’s site).

Would you count it? I would.

In Week 22, Booker had to focus on scoring rather than distributing. His 1.8 assists shows how the team is leaning on him to score. And leaning hard. He accounted for 28% of all Suns’ points this past week. This included a 46-point performance in a loss against the Thunder.

You have to worry when the team relies so heavily on Booker. He’ll keep going, keep fighting, and keep willing his team to victory. But someone needs to help with the burden. We’ve seen this before and it doesn’t end well.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns @ Golden State Warriors (L, 123-112) FULL RECAP

Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks (116-104) FULL RECAP

Phoenix Suns vs. Orlando Magic (W, 116-113) FULL RECAP

Phoenix Suns @ Oklahoma City Thunder (L, 124-120) FULL RECAP

Highlights/Post Game Podcasts


435. Suns (37-31) @ Warriors Post Game Pod:


436. Suns (37-32) vs. Bucks Post Game Pod:


437. Suns (38-32) vs. Magic Post Game Pod:


438. Suns (38-33) @ Thunder Post Game Pod:

News & Notes

CBS Sports: Kevin Durant’s ‘insane’ streak of not playing in front of Warriors fans continues, but ‘a lot of love’ awaits

Arizona Sports: Suns still have unsettled Western Conference tiebreakers

Burn City Sports: Kendrick Perkins Doesn’t Believe the Suns Are a Title Threat Even With a Healthy Kevin Durant

The Score: KD: Barkley’s ‘a f-----g legend,’ but I dislike his approach as an analyst

Arizona Sports: Complaints about whistles by Suns distract from their real problems

AZ Central: ‘Love it’: Suns point guards Chris Paul, Cameron Payne sharing court

Clutch Points: Suns star Devin Booker allegedly claps back at Bad Bunny amid Kendall Jenner diss, rumored romance

Arizona Sports: Phoenix Suns’ 2022-23 season will be Al McCoy’s last

Burn City Sports: There is no stopping Devin Booker in March

Hoops Rumors: Landry Shamet Cleared To Return For Suns

Quotes of the Week

“Kevin being with us for 10 of those or 6 of those, Kevin knows how to play. We’re not concerned about Kevin forgetting how to play basketball over the next 8 games.” — James Jones

“It’s the NBA. We know what we’re up against.” — Josh Okogie

“Sometimes he can get frustrated because he doesn’t know why the ball is not coming, it’s because there are two guys in the paint.” — Monty Williams on Deandre Ayton

“Giannis has 24 free throws. It’s ridiculous. There’s no other way to put it.” — Monty Williams

“It was a big-time win. It was a must win I feel like. We lost three in a row. That’s not really normal for us. We needed one.” — Cameron Payne

“I just wanted to get a win. We lost the last couple of games. Getting back on the winning streak is definitely my main priority. It was good to kind of put the nail in the coffin.” — Terrance Ross

“I anticipated the shot. Thank God I didn’t foul him.” — Josh Okogie

“It sucks. We kind of played with the game a little bit.” — Landry Shamet

“We’re one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to fouling. We have to correct that.” — Monty Williams

Key Stat


Number of free-throw attempts by the opposition in Week 22. That was the most given up in the league, with the Minnesota Timberwolves being second with 109.

Injury Status Report

Deandre Ayton (thigh contusion) is OUT

Kevin Durant (ankle) is OUT

This Week in Suns History

March 23, 1993

There have been spats here and there in Suns history. Amare and Boris leaving the bench. Booker and The Joker getting into a spitting-into-your-mouth competition. Pat Bev shoving Deandre Ayton.

Then there was the biggest altercation in Suns history, which happened 30 years ago this Thursday. This wasn’t just the largest brawl in Suns history, it’s an NBA all-timer. A blind pick. A bench clearing melee. Six ejections. It was so impactful, the NBA changed their stance on rules relative to fighting.

The Suns were cruising through the 1992-93 NBA season, sitting at first place in the Western Conference. On March 23, 1993, they hosted the best in the Eastern Conference, a physical New York Knicks team with Patrick Ewing, John Stark, and Greg Anthony in street clothes.

New York was streaking, having won 9 consecutive games entering the game.

Phoenix was up 6 late in the second quarter when the Knicks were in bounding the ball. Kevin Johnson swatted the inbound pass away from Doc Rivers, which sparked some verbal back-and-forth between the two guards. New York attempted to inbound the ball a second time, and Doc shoved KJ — who definitely sold the contact — and Rivers received an offensive foul for the push.

Doc yelled at the official, KJ began yelling at Doc, and both benches began to clear. Round 1, ding ding!

After much ado about nothing, everyone retreated to their respective areas. It appeared that calmer heads had prevailed and the Suns would take their 6-point lead into halftime. Following the offensive foul on Rivers, Phoenix inbounded the ball, KJ aggressively drove the ball on Rivers, and drew the charge.

KJ returned on defense, and as John Starks used a Doc Rivers as a screener to hoist a last-second three to end the half. When the screen was set, Kevin Johnson threw a shoulder into Doc’s chest, which floored the 10-year veteran.

More words were exchanged, but nothing that we haven’t seen 100 times. Greg Anthony, who wasn’t playing in the game and was wearing clothes from his Hammer Time clothing collection, walked up to a restrained KJ and threw a punch.

Round 2, ding ding.

After the dust settled, John Starks (hated that guy), Doc Rivers, Anthony Mason, and Greg Anthony were ejected from the game, as was KJ and Danny Ainge.

Phoenix would dominate the second half, outscoring the Knicks 62-39. Phoenix was lead by Sir Charles Barkley — who surprisingly wasn’t involved in the melee to the point of ejection — and his 31 points and 11 rebounds.

Upcoming Games

Wednesday, March 22 — Phoenix Suns @ Los Angeles Lakers

Friday, March 24 — Phoenix Suns @ Sacramento Kings

Saturday, March 25 — Phoenix Suns vs. Philadelphia 76ers

The road trip continues on Wednesday night against a fledgling Lakers team. They are fighting for their postseason lives as they carry with them a 34-37 record and, more importantly, the 11th seed in the Western Conference. The Suns are 2-0 against Los Angeles with two games to go against their Pacific Division rival in their final 11 games.

Rob Pelinka did a splendid job at the trade deadline as he did what many didn’t think was possible: he flipped distressed assets like Russell Westbrook and actually received productive players like Jarred Vanderbilt in return. Lord knows why other GM’s in the NBA always bail the Lakers out. I wish they would just let them suffer for their poor decision making, especially those that have been driven by LeBron.

Alas, LeBron is battling plantar fasciitis and the team is fighting for one of those final postseason spots. Anyone see the game winner by Maxi Kleber on Friday night? Ouch.

The road trip ends on Friday night in Sacramento. The team that likes to light the beam continues to do just that, and at 43-27, they’re battling for the second seed with the Memphis Grizzlies. Their offense is potent – they are tops in the league in points-per-game at 121.1 and offensive rating at 119.4 points-per-100-possessions – and they will be tough at home, where they are currently 21-14. They scored 124.2 points at the Golden 1 Center.

The Kings will bring everything they got. Can you blame them? They are a franchise that hasn’t been relevant since the Bush administration. They’re winning games and they’re enjoying it. As well they should.

The final game of Week 23 for the Suns is the following night back at home against the Philadelphia 76ers. I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but this feels like a scheduled loss. Play the second seed in the Western Conference on a Friday, fly home, play the second seed in the Eastern Conference on a Saturday.

Joel Embiid is playing at an NBA MVP caliber, and with the Denver Nuggets recent struggles, may earn the hardware he yearns for so badly.

The 47-22 76ers are first in three-point percentage. They’re first in free-throw attempts. They’re first in free-throw percentage. And we know the story with the Suns and free throws.

Tough week ahead, y’all.

Weekly Prediction: 1-2

The highlight of Week 23 (hopefully) is that we hear good news about Kevin Durant. The reality of it is Phoenix must focus simply on themselves and not competition. What is working in their favor at this point is teams that are chasing them for the four seed are losing. Separation is occurring. The longer that happens, the more likely it is the Phoenix and the regular season in the fourth spot in the Western Conference.

Week 23 will be tough for the reasons stated above. Most notably the Suns’ record against quality competition. They play two teams with above .500 this week and one team below. That’s exactly how I see the week playing out.


Week 23! What will the Suns record be?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    (8 votes)
  • 22%
    (29 votes)
  • 40%
    (51 votes)
  • 30%
    (39 votes)
127 votes total Vote Now

Bringing it Home

The regular season is over in less than a month. It’s time to accept what our expectations, needs, and wants are for this team. Not for the postseason, but for the regular season. The wins, the losses, the over-analysis week to week. What does it all mean?

Based on where the Suns are located in the standings, it’s time that we simply accept our fate. This team will not be a two or a three seed. While the opportunity exists to have home court advantage in the First Round of the playoffs, that’s where it ends. Our expectation should by the four seed.

That should be the only thing that we truly care about for the remainder of the season relative to standings. Per, the Suns have a 56% chance of retaining the four seed, but with a challenging schedule ahead, it’s become a coin flip rather than a sure thing.

Our needs should be as follows: that they are healthy entering the postseason. That we get Kevin Durant back.

The time to gel, the time to integrate? Those are wants. We want chemistry, but that time is pretty much over. The Suns have 11 games left in the season. That’s 13% of the season left. Even if Kevin Durant was to return for the Lakers game on Wednesday, it’s not enough time to truly define who and what everybody is on this roster.

That’s okay.

Phoenix isn’t the only team facing multiple questions entering this postseason, especially in the Western Conference. Just take a look at the landscape. I’ve never seen anything like this this late in the season. I’ve never seen so much parity. Dave King said it really well in a tweet the other day:

That’s just wild!

It’s not about where you land relative to seating, unless you have to go through the play-in tournament. We don’t need our season to hinge on that format. Free-throw alone would sink us.

It’s about peeking at the right time.

Remember the Golden State Warriors last season? Remember their injuries throughout the season? Draymond Green had back issues and people didn’t even know if he was going to be able to play anymore. But he did. The team got hot (and they benefited from the Dallas Mavericks beating the Suns in the second round) and they went on to win a championship.

While we watch these games down the stretch, we have to remind ourselves that it isn’t always about how the Suns run the Spain pick-and-roll or how effective Terrence Ross is. Those are factors, yes, but once the playoffs hit it’s a totally different season. It’s a totally different game.

One thing that Phoenix has is plenty of postseason experience. We want that experience to equate to victories, and that they’re the first team to win 16 in the postseason. Hell, I need that.

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