Land of the ‘rising Suns’

It’s going to come down to the final game of the NBA restart for DeAndre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns, while Chavano “Buddy” Hield and the Sacramento Kings are eliminated. The two Bahamians each have a game remaining in the NBA regular season.

Ayton and the Suns picked up their seventh straight win in the National Basketball Association (NBA) on Tuesday, knocking off the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 at the ESPN World Wide Sports Complex at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida. Their seven straight wins is their longest streak in 10 seasons, ever since the 2009-2010 campaign. They’re the only undefeated team in the bubble, on the NBA Campus in Orlando, and have won nine out of 10 dating back to before the regular season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, the Suns might not finish in the top nine in order to be alive for the playoffs. They need to win their last game to go along with a loss from the Portland Trail Blazers or the Memphis Grizzlies to stand a chance. The Suns play the Dallas Mavericks at 4 p.m. on Thursday. The Blazers play the Brooklyn Nets, and the Grizzlies have the toughest task of all three, taking on the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks. The San Antonio Spurs are not totally out of it either, just a percentage point behind the Grizzlies and Suns.

In the race for eighth in the Western Conference of the NBA, all four teams are separated by just a half of a game. The eighth and ninth-seeded teams will play a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot and the 10th and 11th-seeded teams will be eliminated.

As for Hield and the Kings, they fell out of contention for a playoff spot with a 129-112 loss to the Houston Rockets on Sunday.

Feeling the excitement of the playoff race, and motivated from their late surge, the Suns had their starting lineups announced virtually by their families before their game against the Sixers on Tuesday. They were a bit off rhythm in the first quarter, but picked it up by the second and methodically mapped out a win in the second half.

Ayton came up just two points shy of another double-double for the Suns, dropping in eight points on 4-for-10 shooting and adding a dozen rebounds. He played a little over 32 minutes. On Monday in an impressive 128-101 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, he had 10 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the field and added six rebounds in just about 17 minutes of action.

Ayton, 22, is averaging 15.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in the NBA restart, and is at 18.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game for the season. He is shooting 54.9 percent from the field this season.

On Tuesday, the Suns were led by star guard Devin Booker who had another massive game with 35 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. He shot 11-for-24 from the field and was 2-for-4 from distance. Mikal Bridges added 24 points on 8-for-10 shooting including 3-for-5 from three-point land, and Dario Saric came off the bench to score 18 points and pull down nine boards. Point guard Ricky Rubio scored 16 points and dished out 20 assists. Frank Kaminsky added 13.

The Sixers put up quite a fight with a number of their stars missing but were unable to keep pace with a torrid Suns team in the closing minutes.

Alec Burks led the way for them with 23 points. Raul Neto added 22 points off the bench, Mike Scott scored 17 and Glenn Robinson III added 15. Furkan Korkmaz added a dozen points and Kyle O’Quinn came up a point short of a triple-double with nine points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

After the Sixers pulled to within a single basket midway through the fourth and final period, the Suns went on a 12-3 scoring run to give themselves some cushion. The lead never shrunk to single digits the rest of the way.

The Suns will take their newfound confidence into Thursday’s match-up against the playoff-bound Mavericks, looking to creep into the top nine in the west.

In their loss to the Rockets, Hield had a respectable game with 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field including 4-for-9 from distance. Point guard De’Aaron Fox led the way for them with 26 points and nine assists. Hield contributed 16, and Bogdan Bogdanović and DaQuan Jeffries added 13 apiece. Jabari Parker had a dozen and Harrison Barnes had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

The Rockets were led by Austin Rivers who had a massive performance off the bench with 41 points on 14-for-20 shooting including 6-for-11 from distance. James Harden added 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and Ben McLemore dropped in 20 points on 7-for-16 shooting including 6-for-14 from distance.

For the season, 27-year-old Hield is averaging 19.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and three assists per game. He is shooting 42.5 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from distance.

The Kings played the New Orleans Pelicans last night, but the result of that game was unavailable up to press time. They will play the Los Angeles Lakers in their final game of the season on Thursday. That game is set for a 1:30 p.m. start.

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Simba French

Simba joined The Nassau Guardian in 2012 as a technical producer for Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. He joined the Editorial Department as a sports reporter in 2018. Simba has covered a wide range of sports stories, including the 2018 CARIFTA in Nassau, Bahamas. Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism

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