One night after winning one statement game against the Utah Jazz, the Phoenix Suns stumbled in another, to the Los Angeles Clippers. Neither result was a referendum on their progress.
Perhaps more integral to the Suns’ climb into contention in the Western Conference is how they handle the vagaries of the NBA schedule.
For every high-profile contest against the Jazz and Clippers, Phoenix has to maintain its consistency against the likes of the Washington Wizards, which Phoenix beat 134-106 Saturday, and Houston Rockets, whom the Suns will host Monday.
Lethargy gripped the Suns in the early stages of their defeat of Washington, but the Suns found the necessary motivation to flip the switch and outscore the Wizards by 26 in the second half.
“You have to have that kind of attitude,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s not always going to be perfect when you’re playing in a long season with this many games, not a lot of practice time. You’re going to have to respond to a malaise or a team that’s just playing hard.
“And I’ve said it about our team all year long: We’ve been resilient all season. And that has to do with heart, attitude, grit, all those things we talk about. This team has it.”
The ability to conjure that it will come to represent the Suns, down the stretch of the regular season and as they prepare for the playoffs. It would have been easy for Phoenix to relent against the Wizards, particularly on the heels of two challenging games against title contenders.
Instead, the Suns have displayed a willingness to respond to challenges, no matter the opponent. Just last week, Phoenix had to fight down the stretch of a 133-130 win in Houston, but the result was a victory that extended the Suns’ winning streak and revealed their resolve.
“Sometimes you drop some games and we say it every time after we drop one: We don’t want to lose two in a row,” said Phoenix guard Devin Booker, who scored a game-high 27 points against the Wizards.
“So come in highly focused and ready to play. The first half was a little bit slow for us but we picked it up. Any win you can come up with in this league is important.”
For all the Rockets’ signs of progress on offense, their defense remains a work in progress. Defensive might was at the heart of the Rockets’ victory over the Dallas Mavericks on April 7, a triumph that snapped a five-game losing skid.
But Houston regressed in back-to-back road losses against the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, allowing those two opponents to shoot 33 for 72 from behind the arc with a 63.4 effective field-goal percentage.
“The defense has to be better, and a lot of it is on the individual fortitude to stop the man in front of you and not necessarily worry about what the scheme is, whose help it is and all that stuff,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “It’s just bearing down and getting stops.”
–Field Level Media