PREVIEW: Phoenix Suns take stellar play on road to face hapless Minnesota Timberwolves

By Field Level Media
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the last month.

Phoenix looks to make it 14 wins in its past 17 games when it faces the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night in Minneapolis.

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All-Stars Devin Booker and Chris Paul have led the strong display while third-year big man Deandre Ayton has quietly been a sturdy force in the interior.

Ayton matched Booker for team-high scoring honors with 22 points on Friday as the Suns opened a three-game road trip with a 106-97 triumph over the Chicago Bulls.

It was Ayton’s first 20-point effort since scoring a season-high 27 points in an overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 22, but he has produced 18 double-doubles this season.

Part of his solid play stems from being pushed, prodded and encouraged by Paul.

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“You saw his ability to guard smaller players,” Suns coach Monty Williams. “Even if a guy made a shot, it was a tough, tough shot. He was a force in the paint. That’s a sign of growth — he’s learning a ton from Chris. All of that is going to make him a better player and more seasoned.”

Ayton is averaging 14.3 points and a team-leading 11.7 rebounds. He is third in scoring behind Booker (24.9) and Paul (16.6).

Booker has topped 20 points in 10 straight games and 15 of the past 16. His 9-of-24 shooting effort against the Bulls equated to his third-lowest percentage (37.5) of the season.

But he has scored 30 or more points on five occasions this month as the Suns heated up. Phoenix had topped 120 points in five straight games and seven of eight prior to falling short of that total against Chicago.

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Bench players Frank Kaminsky (15 points) and Cameron Johnson (eight) also provided a boost.

“It’s such a luxury to have, but we expect that,” Paul said of the contributions of the bench. “We talk about it all the time — we’re one of the few teams in the league that has a bench that comes in and they’re basically starters.

“That’s why we’re a team. We pick each other up on any given night and it’s great to be a part of.”

Minnesota has lost a season-worst seven straight games for the second time during a dismal season. It owns an NBA-worst 7-27 record.

The Timberwolves completed a winless four-game road trip with a 128-112 loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday for their 13th setback in the past 15 games.

Minnesota allowed 74 second-half points against the Wizards and has given up a whopping 400 points — an average of 133.3 — in its first three games under coach Chris Finch, who replaced the fired Ryan Saunders.

The Timberwolves led by four points in the third quarter before being blitzed 35-12 over a 7 1/2-minute stretch to fall behind by 19.

“When teams make a run on you, you’ve got to fight back,” Finch said. “We have to learn to be a little more resilient.”

Karl-Anthony Towns recorded 23 points and 11 rebounds and Anthony Edwards added 21 for the Timberwolves.

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Edwards, the first overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, has scored 21 points in each of the past two games while making just 16 of 42 shots. And over the past six games, he has hit on just 29.5 percent (28 of 95) of his field-goal attempts.

“He’s got to continue to understand what the game is giving him,” Finch said of Edwards. “Every time he went downhill and got to the rim, they really couldn’t stop him.

“He’s kind of just out there playing right now. He doesn’t have a plan of attack. That’s normal. That’s something that will happen for him hopefully as the season unfolds and for sure going forward.”

Saturday’s contest was Minnesota’s first without shooting guard Malik Beasley, who was suspended 12 games by the NBA due to his guilty plea for making threats of violence against a family last September. Beasley is averaging 20.5 points per game.

Josh Okogie moved into the starting lineup and had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

–Field Level Media