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Suns eye top playoff seed in West, face rising Timberwolves

Sportsnaut
Mar 18, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (left) and Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton talk during the second half of the game against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns have a chance to secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night in Minneapolis.

Phoenix (58-14) can clinch the top spot in the conference if it beats Minnesota and the Memphis Grizzlies lose to the Brooklyn Nets. That game also is set for Wednesday night.

The Suns have won five straight games, including a 127-124 overtime victory in their most recent game Sunday evening against the Sacramento Kings. All of that success has come without star point guard Chris Paul, who is sidelined by a fractured right thumb.

Phoenix head coach Monty Williams said everyone on the team deserved credit.

“The fight that we show night in and night out, no matter who plays, is something that I’m proud of,” Williams said. “That’s who we are. Who steps up or who’s got a uniform on, it does matter, but the style of play is always there and the grit and toughness is there.”

Minnesota (42-31) also is in the midst of a feel-good season, although the Timberwolves are lower in the conference standings at seventh place. The team has won 10 of its past 12 games as it tries to force its way into a top-six finish and avoid the play-in round.

On Monday night, the Timberwolves’ four-game winning streak ended as it fell short 110-108 to the Dallas Mavericks. An officiating call late in the game did not sit well with the Timberwolves, but guard D’Angelo Russell said there could be a lesson in the narrow defeat.

“Maybe (we learned to) not put the game in any official’s hands and try to win it straight up, and not depend on refs to make a call,” Russell said. “Just try to put the game out of reach so none of that (comes) into play.”

Minnesota now must try to slow down the Suns, who are led in scoring by Devin Booker with 25.9 points per game. Booker also is averaging 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists.

Suns big man Deandre Ayton is next on the scoring list with 17 points and 10 rebounds per game. Paul is third with 14.9 points and 10.7 assists, and there is a growing sense of optimism that his return could be sooner rather than later.

Paul practiced with the Suns on Tuesday, two days after he had a pregame workout before Sunday’s win at Sacramento. The team’s initial timetable projected Paul to be out until the playoffs, but it is possible that he could come back ahead of schedule.

The Timberwolves’ top scorer is Karl-Anthony Towns, who is averaging 24.9 points and 9.8 boards. Anthony Edwards (21.1 points per game) and Russell (18.5) round out the top three.

Minnesota will remain without Jaden McDaniels, who is sidelined because of a sprained left ankle. The 21-year-old McDaniels is averaging 9.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 67 games (31 starts) this season.

The Timberwolves are 24-12 at home. Phoenix is a league-best 28-6 on the road.

–Field Level Media