Suns longshot for playoffs but relish bubble experience
The Suns will basically be eliminated from the playoffs the minute they step on the floor in Florida.
Not only is Phoenix six games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final Western Conference playoff spot with eight games to play, but the Suns also have to leapfrog four other teams — Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento and New Orleans — who are also in the race.
Even so, for a young team that's trying to become one of the NBA's up-and-coming contenders, their bubble experience in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, will be invaluable no matter the outcome.
“We're one of the teams that has the most to gain," Suns coach Monty Williams said. “To get our guys back on the floor, have another training camp, spend time in the video room, spend time in the meal room together, go fishing together, watching the guys play Spikeball and all the organic, authentic conversations that have taken place. Watching movies about the history of our country as it relates to race ... I feel like it's going to pay dividends for us for years to come.”
The Suns' roster probably won't be complete in Florida because of injuries and COVID-19 cases, but the team's two young stars Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton should be on the floor. Booker made his first All-Star appearance in February and is averaging 26.1 points per game.
“It's not about the lights being the brightest they can be, it's about getting a chance to compete and keep solidifying myself in this league,” Booker said. “That's my main objective and I know that's going to come with wins and the growth of our team. So that's what we're working on here.”
The Suns said Wednesday that center Aron Baynes and guards Elie Okobo and Jalen Lecque are not with the team. Baynes revealed in a video interview with Stadium that he had tested positive for COVID-19 while the team said Okobo and Lecque aren't with the team because of personal reasons. All three hope to join the team in Florida at some point. Phoenix already knew it would be without starting forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who is recovering from a knee injury. The team did add backcourt depth by signing guard Cameron Payne.
WHERE WE WERE
The Suns were showing improvement with their young core of Booker and Ayton and had some of their best wins of the season against the Blazers, Bucks and Jazz in the weeks before the COVID-19 shutdown. Williams was also excited about a group of young players, including Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson.
The team's starting point guard Ricky Rubio revealed that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was only recently cleared to join practices. He's not sure how much he'll play in the team's scrimmages. There's no question he's a big part of the team's current and future plans and he's averaging 13.1 points and 8.9 assists this season.
AYTON IN ACTION
The 22-year-old Ayton might have the most to gain from more game action in Florida. The former No. 1 overall pick in 2018 has had a somewhat frustrating second season. Ayton missed 25 games early in the season after violating the league's anti-drug policy and then battled various injuries when he returned. When the athletic 6-foot-11 forward has been in the lineup, he's been productive, averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds in his second season.
Now he's got the opportunity to build more momentum.
“I love it, I coudn't wait,” Ayton said. “I finally get to put my energy into real basketball instead of (video games) 2K or Warzone. I'm just happy to be in this environment, shoot a basketball into a real NBA hoop, see my jersey, wear my team uniform and just be ready to be coachable. I missed it.”
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