Suns guard Devin Booker on why the Suns didn’t want Russell Westbrook to get a triple-double on their home floor.
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Thunder guard Russell Westbrook entered Phoenix on pace to average a triple-double for the season.
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Warriors star Stephen Curry talks about Wednesday’s win over the Suns.
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USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick discusses the struggles plaguing the defending champions.
USA TODAY Sports
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Suns guard Devin Booker discusses earning respect from officials and his early aggressiveness in a loss to the Clippers on Thursday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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The arguments for and against Rockets star James Harden winning the MVP award.
USA TODAY Sports
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Ball and Fultz are two of the top prospects for the 2017 NBA draft.
USA TODAY Sports
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Suns forward Jared Dudley discusses the Suns’ winless road trip after a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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A look at how far NBA players once made it in the NCAA tournament.
USA TODAY Sports
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In the latest NBA Power Rankings, the Warriors are rolling, even without Kevin Durant. Meantime, the Clippers are struggling at the wrong time and the Nets are playing their best hoops of the season.
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Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker talks about his team’s loss against the Charlotte Hornets, March 26, 2017. (Doug Haller/azcentral sports)
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Suns guard Devin Booker discusses his 70-point game against the Boston Celtics.
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Suns coach Earl Watson discusses his team’s shortage of players and how that is starting to weigh on them after Thursday’s loss to the Nets in Brooklyn. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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Suns forward Jared Dudley discusses recent team injuries and how that impacts a team resting a few star players, following Tuesday’s loss to the Miami Heat. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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Dan Bickley and Mark Faller discuss the Indiana job opening, which could pull Steve Alford away from UCLA, and whether the Bruins would pursue Suns’ head coach Earl Watson. Video: azcentral sports
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NBA players who have tallied the most points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals in a single game this season.
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In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, Russell Westbrook is leading the Thunder to a strong finish in the regular season.
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Suns point guard Tyler Ulis reacts to Friday’s home loss to the Magic.
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Kent Somers and Jay Dieffenbach discuss the Suns’ decision to shut down Eric Bledsoe for the season and the possibility of them getting UCLA’s Lonzo Ball? Video: azcentral sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick tells us why the Spurs will be hard-pressed to secure the top seed in the Western Conference.
USA TODAY Sports
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HoopsHype writer Alex Kennedy discusses some of the players who will be free agents this summer.
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Phoenix Suns center Alan Williams watches his mother, Jeri Williams, sworn in as Phoenix police chief in Chesapeake Energy Arena. (Paul Coro/azcentral sports)
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Hosted by head coach Earl Watson, who says the Suns “embrace and celebrate our youth.” Video: Phoenix Suns
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Booker on Westbrook’s triple-double search: ‘Just didn’t want it to be here’
Russell Westbrook chases history
Stephen Curry on win over Suns
Cavaliers are struggling in a major way
Devin Booker on Suns loss to Clippers
James Harden for MVP: Pros and Cons
Lonzo Ball vs. Markelle Fultz: Tale of the tape
Jared Dudley on Suns loss to Hawks
How far NBA players made it in NCAA tournament
NBA Power Rankings: Warriors surging ahead of playoffs
Devin Booker on Suns’ fall to Hornets
Devin Booker on his 70-point night
Earl Watson after Suns’ loss to Nets
Jared Dudley on Suns’ loss to Heat
Shot Clock: Would Earl Watson leave the Suns if the UCLA job were to open up?
NBA’s best statistical performances so far in 2016-17
NBA Power Rankings: Russell Westbrook continues to carry Thunder
Tyler Ulis on Suns’ loss to Magic
Shot Clock: Eric Bledsoe is out, maybe UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is in?
Why the Spurs desperately need the No. 1 seed
Big-name free agents this summer
Alan Williams watching his mother’s police chief ceremony
Suns ’embrace youth’ in WeArePHX ‘Momentum’ video
For a team that’s about to wrap up one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Suns certainly have made things interesting over the season’s second half.
Rookie Tyler Ulis and guard Devin Booker both buried game-winning jump shots. Booker had a historic night in Boston and then helped prevent Russell Westbrook from having his own in Phoenix. In between, coach Earl Watson, dealing with a limited roster, sent out the youngest starting five in NBA history.
The Suns benched contributors Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight after the All-Star break. On March 15, they shelved point guard Eric Bledsoe. From there, the Suns lost 13 in a row, tying a franchise record. All the while, opposing players and coaches complimented them for playing hard under difficult circumstances.
What did we learn through this youth “evaluation period?” Let’s examine:
I. Booker is ahead of schedule
Watson playfully called out a national reporter last week for questioning Booker’s star potential. “That 70 was good enough for you?” Watson asked during a pregame media gathering. Actually, the second-year guard recently has made a lot of folks look foolish.
In a loss at Boston on March 24, Booker, 20, made NBA history by becoming the sixth player to score 70 or more. On Saturday, he stole the spotlight from Westbrook, who needed one more triple-double to break Oscar Robertson’s season record of 41.
With the Talking Stick Resort Arena crowd cheering on Westbrook, Booker scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, yelling, “This is my house!” after draining a late jump shot. Year 3 is usually big for young players, the season they go from rising star to All-Star.
The Suns will have to win more for that to happen, but Booker is ahead of schedule. Over the last month, he’s showcased elite shot-making and improved playmaking.
“What’s his full potential?” Suns veteran Jared Dudley said. “I don’t think we even know. He had 70, he had this, but can he be a guy that averages 25 (points), five (rebounds) and five (assists)? He could score 100 points all he wants, he will never be an All-Star if the Suns don’t win.”
II. Defense remains an issue
The Suns spent the season’s final weeks emphasizing habits, a necessity for a team that hasn’t started anyone older than 23 since March 15. Even so, they showed defensive improvement.
In 18 games since the All-Star break, the Suns have posted a 45.6 defensive field-goal percentage, which ranks 13th in the NBA. Their 36.6 3-point defensive field-goal percentage ranks 21st. At the same time, they’ve allowed 115 points per game, which ranks last.
“I think growing defensively for us is blocking shots,” Watson said. “As far as protecting the 3 and defending the 3, I still think we need more length. We need more athleticism. Definitely more height, that kind of goes along with everything, but I think we will get better.”
Fouling also remains an issue. Phoenix opponents have averaged 30.5 free-throw attempts per game since the All-Star break, nearly three more than any other team. Overall, the Suns average 24.9 fouls per game, most in the NBA over the past decade.
III. The youth has promise
So how have the young players fared over this stretch? Let’s take a look:
- T.J. Warren. Even though the Suns have not committed to Warren as their small forward of the future, he’s made the most of his extended action. Since the All-Star break, the third-year forward has averaged 17.6 points and 7.8 rebounds, shooting 59 percent from 2-point range. Problem areas: Warren still needs work defensively and for a scorer, he doesn’t get to the foul line (2.3 attempts per game) nearly enough.
- Dragan Bender. The 7-1 Bender – the fourth overall pick of last year’s draft – recently returned after missing 28 games because of minor foot surgery. With the Suns in “evaluation” mode, the extra playing time would’ve helped.
- Marquese Chriss. After a strong March (13.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 38.1 3-point percentage), the rookie forward recently has struggled on both ends. That’s not uncommon for 19-year-olds. Even so, opposing coaches have remarked about Chriss’ improvement over his first season. He’s a big part of the Phoenix foundation.
- Alan Williams. With 11 double-doubles since the All-Star break, the 6-8 Williams has been a surprise. He’s gone from bench warmer to solid rotation contributor, someone the Suns likely will try to keep as he approaches restricted free agency. “I don’t think I could ever tell you we really envisioned Big Al breaking the (franchise) double-double record (for a reserve),” Watson said.
- Alex Len. The 7-1 center lost minutes to Williams, which isn’t a good sign as he approaches restricted free agency. Len has averaged nine points and 6.9 rebounds, shooting 48.9 percent since the All-Star break. He’s worked on extending his range to hit the corner 3, but that remains a work in progress.
- Tyler Ulis. The Suns want him to be more aggressive looking for his shot, but Ulis has done more than enough to show he is a capable backup point guard.
- Derrick Jones Jr. Once he learns how to play, the rookie wing’s defensive potential is off the charts. He’s also made more energy plays lately, particularly on the offensive glass. His offense – particularly his shooting – remains a concern.
“They got a big summer ahead of them, taking the next leap,” said Chandler, the veteran center. “A summer of taking all the game film and their mistakes and correcting them so they’re ready to go next year.”
Mavericks at Suns
When: 3 p.m.
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena.
TV/Radio: FSAZ plus/KTAR 98.7 FM
Dallas update: Out of playoff contention, the Mavericks (32-47) have lost seven of eight. This marks the first losing season in Mark Cuban’s 17 full seasons as owner. Phoenix this season is 2-1 against Dallas. On Jan. 12, Suns guard Devin Booker scored 39 points – including a franchise-record 28 in the fourth quarter – in a 113-108 loss. On March 11, Booker hit a game-winning jumper in a 100-98 win.