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Monty Williams says absences of Durant, Ayton have opened positive opportunities off bench

TJ Warren and Terrence Ross had big performances Friday against the Kings

Phoenix Suns v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns are shorthanded, just as they have been for much of the season.

Phoenix will play its fourth straight game without starting center Deandre Ayton due to a hip injury. The Suns are also notably without Kevin Durant, who played three games with the team before he suffered a left ankle sprain in pregame warmups against the Oklahoma City Thunder two weeks ago.

Ayton’s injury is not expected to be long-term while Durant may return Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Still, the Suns have struggled without their tallest players in their starting lineup with three consecutive losses and six defeats in their last seven games overall.

Suns coach Monty Williams briefly addressed the absences of Durant and Ayton before Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers and how they have impacted the team.

“I just don’t think that’s responsible when you’re building a continuity across the board,” Williams said of their absences contributing to the Suns losing streak. “They are obviously two important guys to the way we play and there was an unreal excitement when we had everybody on the floor for three games, but I think it’s also important to get other guys up to speed. I don’t think I would have played T.J. (Warren) the way I am playing him now had Kevin (Durant) not gone down, even though you don’t want guys to get hurt, we are learning some things about T.J. and Terrence (Ross) and getting Landry (Shamet) back.”

Williams said after the Suns’ loss Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder the team would have a more concise rotation, which has somewhat materialized. Phoenix played 11 players in their defeat Wednesday to the Los Angeles Lakers and 10 in their loss Friday to the Sacramento Kings.

Warren played 20 and 29 minutes, respectively, against the Lakers and Kings and had 15 points Friday night against Sacramento, which is his most in his second stint with the Suns. Ross has been a regular contributor off the bench since he was bought out by the Orlando Magic and acquired by the Suns as a free agent last month and had 30 points Friday against the Kings.

Phoenix will be tested Saturday against the 76ers, who have the player who is most likely to win the MVP award, Joel Embiid. Embiid is an extremely difficult player to guard and has the most 30-point games in the NBA this season (43).

He also ranks No. 2 in the league in free-throw attempts per game (11.92) and will test the Suns’ defense, which has struggled to keep teams off the line in the last few games.

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