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.
USA TODAY Sports
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Suns center Alan Williams, who scored 14 points and had 11 rebounds, explains why he thinks he should have played better.
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Portland Trail Blazers guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum discuss how they were affected by playing with Suns coach Earl Watson, following Sunday’s Portland win over Phoenix. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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Suns guard Devin Booker discusses his game-winning play to beat the Mavericks in Dallas on Saturday. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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azcentral sports’ Sarah McLellan and Doug Haller discuss the Suns’ loss to the Lakers, tanking for best possible draft pick and the Pac-12 basketball semifinals.
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Suns guard Devin Booker reacts to Thursday night’s loss to the Lakers.
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azcentral sports’ Jay Dieffenbach and Dan Bickley break down the NBA MVP race and a possible reunion in the Cardinals defensive backfield.
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Jose Calderon made 415K for two hours and he didn’t even play. Veuer’s Nick Cardona explains why.
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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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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 on why he was disappointed in loss to Kings
Blazers guards Lillard, McCollum on Suns coach Watson
Suns’ Devin Booker on buzzer-beater to beat Mavericks
Shot Clock: Suns-Lakers, tanking, Pac-12 picks
Devin Booker on loss to Lakers
Shot Clock: NBA MVP debate, Cardinals DBs
NBA player makes $415,000 for two hours
Alan Williams watching his mother’s police chief ceremony
Suns ’embrace youth’ in WeArePHX ‘Momentum’ video
MIAMI – In late February, as the Suns prepared for their first game after the All-Star break, Alex Len finished his work during the morning shoot-around in Chicago and took a seat at the United Center.
With the Suns out of playoff contention, management had decided to evaluate Phoenix’s youth, a move that put Len into the starting five in place of veteran center Tyson Chandler. Len – a restricted free agent at season’s end – didn’t need to be told what was at stake.
“Huge,” the 7-foot-1 center, the fifth overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft, said that morning. “It’s my contract year, so it’s a huge stretch. I just have to show everybody I can be a starting center in this league. I got an opportunity, I just have to prove it.”
Nearly a month later, as the Suns visit Miami on Tuesday, Len continues to work toward that goal. It hasn’t been easy. Over 11 games, the fourth-year center has played 25-plus minutes only three times. A lingering hip issue and an upstart teammate who had spent most of the first half cheering from the bench are not helping his cause.
A few weeks ago, during his weekly radio show, Earl Watson was asked about Len’s progress. The Suns’ second-year coach started talking about opportunity and how it seldom comes when people expect and the importance of being ready at all times. “And to me,” Watson concluded, “the best definition of being ready has been Alan Williams.”
Along with rookie point guard Tyler Ulis, Williams has thrived during this evaluation stretch, taking minutes from Len at center. Since the All-Star break, the 6-8 Williams – also approaching restricted free agency — has averaged 13.5 points and 9.8 rebounds, shooting 53.3 percent from the field. Although Len has started every game in which he’s been healthy, Watson often has turned to Williams in crunch time.
“Big Al’s just been playing great,” Watson said. “He’s earned those minutes.”
As a result, Len is playing just a minute more on average than he did before the All-Star break. His per-game production has been nearly identical – 7.5 points before the break and 7.5 after; 6.4 rebounds before the break, 6.5 after. (Len’s per-36 minute overall numbers of 13.7 points and 11.7 rebounds remain strong.)
The hip issue was bothersome. Nothing new, but something Len had battled all season. He first hurt it against New Orleans before Christmas. Then he did it again in practice before the team left for Mexico City and again two weeks ago against the Lakers.
“Three different times in the same spot,” said Len, who needed two games to recover.
Since his return, Len has worked on developing a new wrinkle to his game – the corner 3-point shot. This is how the NBA is going, Watson said. Look at Minnesota 7-footer Karl-Anthony Towns (234 3-point attempts this season). Look at Philadelphia 7-footer Joel Embiid (98 before suffering a season-ending knee injury). Today’s centers stretch the court, something Len did growing up, but got away from during his college years at Maryland.
“Big guys in this league, either you develop and shoot the 3 or you become a great rebounder,” Watson said. “If you can dominate the boards like Tyson did, it kind of makes it hard for a team to go small. But (overall) it’s a different game.”
A 71-percent career free-throw shooter, Len has a decent shooting touch, but he admits, it feels “weird” looking for shots on the perimeter when he’s used to operating in the paint. Entering Sunday’s game in Detroit, Len had attempted just 16 3-pointers in 253 career games. He had made three.
“Alex Len is a capable corner 3-point shooter,” Watson said, “he just has to get comfortable shooting it and he has to practice it. That’s where the confidence will come from.”
On Phoenix’s first possession Sunday, Ulis penetrated right and fired a pass to Len in the opposite corner. The big man didn’t hesitate, firing and swishing a 3, perhaps a key moment in Len’s development, perhaps a sign of things to come.
Guards Devin Booker (ankle), Ronnie Price (leg) and Leandro Barbosa (illness) all missed Sunday’s loss at Detroit, leaving the Suns with just eight available players. When asked about their conditions after the game, all three suggested they wouldn’t miss significant time. The Suns list them questionable for Tuesday’s contest against the Heat.
Suns at Heat
When: 4:30 p.m.
Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami.
TV/radio: FSAZ/KTAR 98.7.
Miami: On Jan. 13, the injury-plagued Heat lost for the 10th time in 11 games, falling to 11-30. Since then, they’ve been among the NBA’s hottest teams. Even after Sunday’s home loss to Portland, Miami has gone 23-6 to position itself in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Center Hassan Whiteside is the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 20 points and 13.7 rebounds. He has posted double-doubles in a franchise-record 12 games. Guard Goran Dragic averages 20 points and 6.3 assists. Guard Dion Waiters (15.8 ppg) is out with an ankle injury.