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Beat-up Suns try to snap 5-game skid as Cavs visit

Jan 6, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (right) moves the ball against Phoenix Suns guard Duane Washington Jr. (4) and Torrey Craig (0) in the first half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns will look to apply the brakes on a season-high-tying, five-game losing skid and avoid falling below .500 for the first time in 2022-23 when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.

The Suns, who also dropped five in a row from Dec. 5-13, have lost eight of their last nine games following Friday’s 104-96 setback to the Miami Heat.

To add injury to insult was the loss of Chris Paul, who exited in the second quarter with right hip soreness. Damion Lee started the second half in place of Paul, who sat out 14 games this season with right heel soreness.

Phoenix already is without several key players due to injury, namely three-time All-Star Devin Booker (groin strain), Cam Johnson (knee) and Cameron Payne (foot).

“We just have to keep at it,” Suns center Deandre Ayton said. “We can come up with a bunch of excuses and next-man-up mentality. … We’ve been turning the ball over. We have to make sure we stay disciplined when it comes to our basketball.”

Ayton followed up his 15-point, 18-rebound performance in the Suns’ 90-88 setback in Cleveland on Wednesday with 23 and 14, respectively, versus Miami.

The former No. 1 overall pick said he’s just trying to be aggressive on the court.

“Just trying to bring that energy throughout everybody,” Ayton said. “Just the effort plays. I think that’s a big thing. Teams probably been beating us on fighting for those 50/50 chance balls. I think at my position, that’s big-time to rebound and set the tone early and clean up the glass, close out possessions and even have extra possessions on the offensive end.”

The Suns were done in on a late possession against Cleveland, with Evan Mobley taking a pass from Donovan Mitchell and draining a 14-foot jumper with four seconds left on Wednesday.

Mitchell, however, sat out two days later to rest, and the Cavaliers saw their three-game winning streak come to a halt with a 121-108 setback to the Denver Nuggets. The contest opened a five-game road trip for Cleveland.

Caris LeVert scored 22 points and All-Star point guard Darius Garland added 21 in his return from a three-game absence due to a right thumb sprain. Garland initially wore a wrap on his thumb before opting to remove it after misfiring on a few shots attempts, only to find himself wincing in pain after being on the receiving end of a hard chop to that area.

“He’s out there taking a beating,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “He kept fighting. We’re gonna have to figure something out as a way to protect it. But I don’t know if you can. It’s tough the way he plays and the way he’s defended.”

Bickerstaff said guard Ricky Rubio is close to making his season debut. Rubio, who underwent ACL surgery in January, worked on his conditioning following Friday morning’s shootaround and recently passed some of the team’s strength-and-balance tests.

–Field Level Media