Suns Gaining Momentum at Right Time

The Phoenix Suns are playing some of their best basketball on the defensive end.
Apr 5, 2024; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Monte Morris (23) shoots
Apr 5, 2024; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Monte Morris (23) shoots / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Suns enjoyed another crucial victory on Friday night, this time against the top-seeded team in the Western Conference in the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Suns managed to get off to an eye-popping 15-0 start to the game - and never looked back after that point.

Only two Timberwolves managed to reach double figures - and star Anthony Edwards has shot just north of 30% against Phoenix in their two meetings.

This lead to the post-game presser, in which coach Frank Vogel, Kevin Durant, and Grayson Allen all spoke.

What were the resounding themes?

The strides the squad has made on the defensive end of the ball... and Jusuf Nurkic.

Starting off with defense - all three were on the same page. Durant stressed the vitality of playing together defensively and setting the tone early on in games. Allen mentioned how the open line of communication has improved significantly on the defensive side of the ball over the last several weeks, too.

“We had seen flashes early in the season of what we can be defensively, offensively. I just think with 77 games played, we are getting more and more comfortable with each other," Durant said following the win. "Understanding our roles individually and  bringing it to the team. Coaching staff has been emphasizing how important these games are, so us guys are just  digging down even deeper to be better as individuals.” 

Coach Vogel went into the most detail, explaining how the countless hours of film, drills, and team meetings have been paramount to the tangible improvement on defense over the preceding weeks.

“We just keep improving, I think it starts with trying to slow down Anthony Edwards, Bradley Beal starting out on basketball and doing a great job, our bigs really being up on pick and rolls to prevent them from getting downhill  and just a lot of improvement from last game," he said.

"We had a strong performance against the Cavs, but we challenge our guys to be even better because there are areas we could still be better. We want to be a good defense and guys responded; a lot of the stuff we worked on carried over to tonight’s game. I think (Jusuf) Nurkic has really grown throughout the course of this season as a rim protector and just blocking everything that comes to the  basket and understanding that the drop coverage that we want him to be in and really just trusting his teammates  to go attack and block shots and that his teammates will cover his back, so that piece has grown.

"The most impressive thing for me was that even though we had 18 turnovers, they only had nine fast break points. We are recovering those possessions way better than we did two weeks ago. We just made a commitment where we said, ‘Every day, we’re going to run out our transition defense and figure out how we can be better with our  effort, focus, alertness, matching up; all those ways to save those possessions and this was a response to (Anthony) Edwards.” 

Perhaps the most unsung player of this Suns season has been Nurkic - but his contributions haven't gone unnoticed by the team.

"He's a beast," Grayson Allen summarized in a short but poignant response.

“Most of the time he makes really good reads on the pick and roll. Knowing when to stay home to the big or  contest the guy at the rim. He does a good job of altering shots. You can’t knock (Jusuf) Nurkic back. The guys try to bump him back and he’s solid. He’s going to be there contesting and he’s pretty sneaky when it comes to  getting blocks and meeting guys at the rim and pinning it against the glass, so he’s been great all year.”

The truth is simple: Phoenix is playing the most consistent basketball of the season. The team appears to be the most in sync they've been in at least two months. This is a team that no one wants to face in a playoff series.

Much of that can be attributed to the strides made on defense, the role players executing the minutia of the game plan in a strong fashion, and the leadership that the star players bring to the table.

The Suns are in action next on Sunday afternoon against the New Orleans Pelicans - a win would make it extraordinarily difficult for anyone to catch them for the six seed in the conference.

Kevin Hicks