Not long ago, being without Devin Booker for an extended period would have been disastrous for the Phoenix Suns.
But with Booker out for a little more than two weeks in early December, the Suns thrived.
With its star guard back in the mix, Phoenix aims to continue its good fortune as it seeks a fifth straight victory on Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Suns were 12-45 without Booker in the lineup over the five previous seasons. Phoenix, however, went 5-2 with Booker sidelined due to a left hamstring injury this month.
“I think a big part of it comes down to our team culture, how guys step into situations and we remain ourselves,” Phoenix’s Cameron Johnson said. “You can see our identity on the court when we have everybody. It’s a group of guys that likes playing together and we play for each other.”
Since Booker’s return, the Suns have defeated the Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Lakers by 31 and 28 points, respectively.
Booker has averaged 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists in the last two games.
“I feel great, man, and I think every game it’s going to feel better,” Booker said. “I’m just getting some runs up under me, but we have a good team that makes it easy to mesh with and get back with. When you have the support of all 15 guys, plus the coaching staff, it gives you a lot more confidence when you’re out there.”
While the Suns have thrived with and without Booker recently, the Thunder have turned things around — at least for now — with a lineup change.
Thunder forward Darius Bazley had started 82 consecutive games over the past two seasons before Mark Daigneault moved him into a reserve role.
Bazley had struggled for much of the season, shooting a career-worst 37.3 percent from the floor through the first 27 games.
But in three games off the bench, Bazley made 14 of 26 shots from the floor. He scored in double figures each time out, including 17 points in Wednesday’s 108-94 win over the Denver Nuggets that extended Oklahoma City’s winning streak to three games.
Bazley isn’t exactly thrilled with the move but has accepted it.
“We were just trying to come up with something to best help the team and myself,” Bazley said. “I know Coach Mark has both my team and my best interests at heart.”
Bazley took a long pause when asked how coming off the bench could help him personally.
“Just bringing energy on both ends of the floor,” Bazley said. “Running the floor, running the lanes offensively. And defensively having effort. Not only can that help me, but it helps the team.”
Thursday’s meeting is the first of four between the teams this season, and the first of two in under a week.
Both times, Oklahoma City will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back set, while the Suns will have a day off coming into the game.
–Field Level Media