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Contenders last year, Heat, Suns battle disappointment

Dec 25, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) controls the ball against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and forward Zeke Nnaji (22) in the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns are sinking fast without Devin Booker and look to stop a four-game skid when they host the Miami Heat on Friday night.

Phoenix is 2-8 without Booker this season, and he will be sidelined about three more weeks after aggravating a groin injury on Dec. 25. He had just returned from a three-game absence due to the initial injury when he left four minutes into the Christmas Day contest.

Booker has missed the last five games for the Suns, who have lost 12 of their past 16 games.

Phoenix has already lost more games (19) this season than it did all last season while recording an NBA-best 64-18 record.

The Suns are back home after a 1-5 road trip that ended with a 90-88 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. Two nights earlier, Phoenix registered a season-worst point total in a 102-83 loss to the New York Knicks.

The loss to the Cavaliers came when Evan Mobley hit a tiebreaking 14-footer with four seconds left for Cleveland. Mikal Bridges missed a last-second shot for Phoenix.

“It’s been that kind of trip,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “That was a hard way to lose a game. The guys are hurting after a game like that we should have won.”

Phoenix reached the NBA Finals two seasons ago and the Western Conference finals last season. But with the midway point of the season just two games away, the Suns are tied for eighth in the West and looking lost without Booker.

The three-time All-Star guard is averaging a career-best 27.1 points per game and has knocked down 67 3-pointers.

Williams said the squad has to remain positive while pursuing a turnaround.

“We’re just waiting for the breakthrough,” Williams said. “No splintering. We keep plugging away and that has been our mentality from the jump. That’s what I keep telling the guys, ‘keep pushing.'”

Miami has the same 20-19 record as the Suns and is also looking to find a groove. The Heat rattled off four straight wins in mid-December and have since split their past eight contests.

The Heat reached the Eastern Conference finals last season but haven’t resembled a championship contender so far this season. Miami sits eighth in the East after Wednesday’s 112-109 loss to a Los Angeles Lakers’ team missing LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“It’s been extremely disappointing every time we get a little bit of footing on the season, and then we have a disappointing loss,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward. “That’s what this was (Wednesday night), but you have to credit the Lakers. They played with a great motor, with spirit with their guys out. We’ve had some wins like that as well, where we’ve had guys out and you can catch a team.”

The Heat are 2-2 entering the final of a five-game road trip and center Bam Adebayo has thrived on the excursion.

Adebayo is averaging 28.8 points and has scored 30 or more points in each of the past three games. He had 32 against the Utah Jazz on Saturday, 31 versus the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday and 30 against the Lakers.

“He trusts in his game and we trust in his game, and he’s being effective,” Heat guard Victor Oladipo said of Adebayo, who has seven 30-point efforts this season. “When you give a guy confidence and belief that his game is what we need, that’s all he needs. He already puts in the work.”

Jimmy Butler scored 27 points against the Lakers after having a season-low nine two nights earlier in the win over the Clippers.

The Heat notched a 113-112 victory over the visiting Suns on Nov. 14. Adebayo contributed 30 points and 10 rebounds for Miami, while Booker scored 25 points for Phoenix.

–Field Level Media