clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Suns practice notebook: Kevin Durant could return against Minnesota, bench play encouraging Monty Williams

Here’s what Suns coach Monty Williams and star guard Devin Booker said after Tuesday’s practice

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Charlotte Hornets Brian Westerholt-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns could be fully healthy Wednesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Suns power forward Kevin Durant will return to action after 10 missed games barring a setback. Durant sprained his left ankle in pregame warmups for a March 8 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and has missed almost three weeks of games.

It is a huge development for Phoenix, which is currently one-half of a game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. A top-four seed would give the Suns home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and potentially more if they face a lower seed.

If Durant plays Wednesday, the Suns will have seven regular season games to regain their chemistry after they traded for him Feb. 9. Durant appeared in three road games against the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks from March 1 through March 5 and helped lead the Suns to satisfying wins.

Phoenix coach Monty Williams did not confirm whether Durant would play Wednesday but spoke about his development in practice. Durant was observed taking jump shots after Tuesday’s practice at the Verizon 5G Performance Center in Phoenix.

“I think it’s so easy to see a guy progressing towards getting back on the floor,” Williams said. “I’ve stated it before, that his work ethic has enhanced our gym, because we’ve felt like we’ve had a really good gym for a while.

“I always use the term, ‘Checking the boxes.’ He’s going to have to get the pain and swelling out and all of that and then progressing to the floor with shots. I’ve seen him shooting to cardio shooting to being able to get up and down a little bit and get himself prepared to go to the next level. But I’m not always around him when he’s doing all of that stuff. I hear about it, I see it, if I’m upstairs (at the practice facility), I’ll see it. But I just get the reports.”

When Durant returns, the Suns will have to tweak and potentially cut their rotation. Williams said Phoenix’s five-man lineup with Durant — which will for sure involve starting guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker and center Deandre Ayton — could change but he and his staff like wing Josh Okogie’s impact with the group.

“We like the combination of [Okogie] being able to guard those tougher guys, but (Suns forward) Torrey (Craig) has done the same thing,” Williams said. “So we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Phoenix’s bench has thrived in the last two games, posting 50 and then 57 points, respectively, against the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday and on the road against the Utah Jazz Monday night.

Backup forward TJ Warren played at least 20 minutes in each of the last four games and scored nine, 15. 16 and nine points, respectively. Backup wing Terrence Ross has averaged 11.4 points in 17.7 minutes per game since he was acquired by the team as a free agent from the buyout market Feb. 15 and has scored 24 and 30 points in separate games.

Williams spoke about the encouraging play from the bench unit Tuesday.

“We thought about it a little bit — probably more than a little bit — ‘What group is best with him (Durant) in the second unit?’” Williams said. “And trying to space around those guys as best you can to space around him. But it was encouraging last night to see the second unit score like that… it’s something that could be fluid moving forward, figuring out like, ‘Who can space the floor?’ But then you have to figure out the other end, ‘Who’s going to be the defender against the toughest wing?’ Maybe you have to sacrifice a bit of scoring to make sure your defense doesn’t take too many steps back.”

Phoenix is also looking to have its team as close to full health as possible for the regular season and beyond. Durant’s absence was momentarily coupled with that of starting center Deandre Ayton, who missed four games prior to the Suns’ win over Jazz Monday night with a hip injury.

With their two longest players in their starting lineup out, Phoenix went 1-3 in that stretch. The Suns went 4-6 with Durant out after his first three games played.

Booker, who seemed to hurt his right hand before or during a drive to the basket in the first half against the Jazz Monday, “didn’t do a ton” in Tuesday’s practice, according to Williams, but the player and Suns’ coach affirmed he should be OK moving forward.

Booker spoke about the importance of fighting fatigue through the remainder of the season and how he will keep teammates accountable as a leader.

“I think everybody just feeds off each other’s injury and we understand what time it is,” Booker said. “We’re ready to get after it.”

Phoenix will have an important game Wednesday against the Timberwolves. It could be — hold your breath —- Durant’s first home game with the team, but it will also be an opportunity to fend off Minnesota, which is 1 ½ games behind the Suns for the No. 4 seed, in the conference standings.

If the Suns beat the Timberwolves, they would be 2 ½ games above them and have the season tiebreaker with three wins in four meetings.

There is plenty for Suns fans to be excited and anxious to be about. Wednesday’s game should enhance those emotions.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bright Side of the Sun Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Phoenix Suns news from Bright Side of the Sun