The Phoenix Suns had a long 2022 off-season. I’m sure it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds. Not only were they eliminated prematurely after finishing with a league-best 64-18 regular season record, the way they got booted out was also jaw-droppingly embarrassing.
It’s Game 7 – win or go home – and what happened? Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks trashed them on their home floor in downtown Phoenix, all while face-painted fans stared blankly, shaking their heads. They lost, 123-90, and trailed by as much as 46 points.
That can be tough for a team to comeback to, regardless of the talent you have, which is what happened to the Suns this season. After every handful of wins, they then drop a couple, until the ghosts of their recent failure took over for a significant time.
The rough December and January
From December 6th to January 17th, something suddenly turned sideways as their supposed championship-contending squad went a woeful 5-17, right after going a solid 16-7 in their first 23 games.
That 22-game stretch featured ugly basketball all-around – yes, Devin Booker was out for the big majority (groin) and Chris Paul on some, but that still should not have happened. It’s not even a performance fit for a subpar playoff team, much less one who’s expected to be in the Conference Finals at the very least.
Collectively, the team was atrocious everywhere, and it translated to ranking dead-last in points, 29th in offensive rating, 24th in defensive rating, and 28th in net rating across a 41-day span.
Further, it featured nine games where they lost by 14 or more points, as well as losses against teams with a losing record.
Finally coming alive!
Fortunately, all that finally ended there and they’re back into the win column. Head coach Monty Williams and his boys appear to have risen from the dead – and that’s despite Booker still a few games away from returning.
Beginning January 20th up to present date, they seem to steadily gain confidence, racking up eight wins in 10 games with a respectable net rating of +4.9. The effort can also be especially seen on the underrated and high-effort stats, as they have flipped from the previously dreadful rankings to place in the top 5 in rebounds, assists, and blocks, all in the last 16 days.
Their last two victories were also by double digits, and one was against the Boston Celtics, current owners of the best record in the league. They were on the road and held MVP candidate Jayson Tatum to 3-for-15 shooting and Boston’s top-ranked offense to just 94 points. That has to feel good.
Such a momentum is what they need to ride on while they try to keep things on a great note again (hopefully as great as their last regular season), a perfect rhythm for Booker’s impending return. He’s been sidelined since their Christmas Day game, which was just days following his 58-point explosion against the New Orleans Pelicans – makes you think as to how really different their record would be had it not happened.
Book’s main running mates on the starting five deserve good credit for driving the focus back. Chris Paul is registering 18 points and 9 assists per game on only 1.9 turnovers over his last seven; DeAndre Ayton is at 20 points and 11.3 rebounds in that same span.
Supposed defensive specialist Mikal Bridges, meanwhile, is shining more on offense – an exciting preview of what he can be if he can be let loose in scoring. In the team’s current 8-2 stretch, Bridges has appeared in all contests and is parading 23.1 points, 5.1 assists, and 1.2 steals, highlighted by having 20 or more points over his previous five. We can probably expect it to continue until Booker’s return.
The Suns are still ways away before being fully able to regain their form, but at least they are on a better path now, unlike previously when it was a downward spiral – everyone is getting healthier too. The next months should be telling, and we’ll have a better feel what they’re really made of.