Three Things to Know: Put some respect on the Suns’ name, they are the best in NBA
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1) Put some respect on the Suns’ name, they are the best in NBA now and may be in June
The Phoenix Suns are not getting enough credit.
This is a team that has won 10 in a row — the last seven of those without their starting center — and at 40-9 has the best record in the NBA. They are the only team with a top-five offensive and defensive rating for the season. They are the best clutch team in the NBA at 19-3 (in games within five points in the final five minutes). They have NBA Finals experience to build upon.
Yet it feels as if many fans treat them as a perfunctory add-on when talking about title contenders (“Oh, and the Suns, I guess”). At our partner Points Bet, the Suns are the third favorite to win the title (+650), behind a Nets team that is both banged up and never found its identity this season, and a slumping and injured Warriors team.
Phoenix absolutely can win the title. If the playoffs started today, it would be the obvious choice.
They win as an ensemble with versatility and unselfish play, but they have stars who can step up in the biggest moments. Sunday that was Devin Booker, who had shot 2-of-7 from 3 for the game until the final minutes, when he drained two 3-pointers to seal the win over the Spurs.
They also win because of Monty Williams.
James Jones just got his contract extended as GM, and his smartest move in that role was not bringing in Chris Paul (although that’s a close second), it was hiring Williams away from the Spurs. Williams has been at the heart of building the Suns culture, developing both players — Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Payne, and the list goes on and on… — and developing coaches. Williams empowers his coaches and they benefit from it. If you don’t believe me, ask Willie Green in New Orleans (where he is now in the big chair).
Williams and his staff will be coaching Team LeBron in the All-Star Game — Sunday’s win over the Spurs clinched the Suns having the best record in the West on the cutoff date of Feb. 6. It’s a well-deserved honor.
All that, and the Suns will still improve this season.
The Nets and Warriors are the betting favorites for the Finals because of their stars and untapped potential (well, the Warriors did tap it earlier this season). The Suns have tapped theirs, even with Ayton out the last seven games with a sprained ankle and Jae Crowder out with a bruised left wrist. It hasn’t mattered. They brought Bismack Biyombo in on a 10-day hardship contract and he was so good, so instrumental they signed him for the rest of the season. Cameron Johnson has been so good the Suns didn’t have to rush Crowder back.
On Tuesday, the Suns face those betting favorite Nets (albeit a Nets team without Kevin Durant and potentially without James Harden). Whatever happens in that game, many fans will keep sleeping on the Suns.
That’s okay with Phoenix. Keep sleeping on them, just like last season, when fans woke up and found them in the NBA Finals. The Suns plan to be back there.
2) Nikola Jokic carves up defending champion Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks defense has been off the past couple of weeks, a 116 defensive rating that is 24th in the league over that stretch and 7 points worse than their season average (stats via Cleaning the Glass).
Not the best time to run into Nikola Jokic,
The reigning MVP carved up the Bucks to the tune of 18 points and 15 assists (plus 9 rebounds). The Nuggets destroyed the Bucks 136-100.
Aaron Gordon added 24 for the Nuggets, who have won five in a row, the last four of those on the road (including wins over the Bucks and Nets). Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 29 to lead Milwaukee.
3) Slumping Utah loses Joe Ingles to knee injury
The Jazz have issues: They have lost four in a row and 8-of-10, Donovan Mitchell has missed seven in a row because of a concussion, Rudy Gobert is out those four straight losses with a calf strain, and rumors those two are not getting along again, which could lead to a trade deadline shake-up.
Now this: Joe Ingles went down with what appears to be a serious knee injury. Here’s the video, but if you are squeamish or just don’t like to see major knee injuries, don’t watch.
The MRI comes Monday, but doctors reportedly were not optimistic. He is likely out for an extended period.
Ingles came in second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season and averages 7.4 points and 3.5 assists per game. Those numbers, however, do not do justice to him as a playoff matchup problem or a critical part of Jazz culture.
Highlight of the Night: Cade Cunningham is making plays, sinking daggers
We’ve written it in this space before but it is worth repeating: Cade Cunningham is starting to figure it all out in Detroit.
As evidence, here he is draining a step-back dagger 3-pointer to beat the Cavaliers.
And here is the kind of passing that had the Pistons taking him first overall.
There’s a long way to go in Cunningham’s development, but he is hitting his stride.
Last night’s scores:
Hawks 129, LA Lakers 121
LA Clippers 115, Charlotte 90
Chicago 130, Portland 116
Detroit 115, Cleveland 105
Orlando 110, Dallas 108
Denver 136, Milwaukee 100
Minnesota 126, Utah 106
Phoenix 115, San Antonio 110