Sports

Scorching Suns win eighth straight

DeAndre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns ended a fantastic two weeks of basketball, finishing with a perfect 8-0 win/loss record in the NBA bubble at the ESPN World Wide Sports Complex at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida, but it might not be enough as they waited patiently for the result of the Portland Trail Blazers and Brooklyn Nets game last night.

A Nets’ win would have given the Suns the ninth spot in the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and they would have met the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in games to determine the eighth and final playoff spot in the west. A Blazers’ win would have eliminated the Suns. The result of that game was unavailable up to press time.

The scorching Suns took care of matters on their end, easily taking down the Dallas Mavericks in their final regular season game yesterday afternoon. They won comfortably, 128-102.

Ayton came up a rebound short of what would have been his 25th double-double of the season in limited action. He missed 25 games for a violation of the league’s anti-drug policy and also missed time due to injury. He has a Suns’ single season rookie record 39 doubles-doubles a year ago.

The Bahamian 22-year-old center finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in the Suns’ win over the Mavericks yesterday – their second win over the Mavericks in the bubble. He finished the season averaging 18.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.5 blocks per game – the second year in a row he averaged a double-double.

This shortened season, Ayton shot 54.6 percent from the field and hit the first three-pointers of his two-year career. He finished with three treys in total, all coming during the Suns’ eight-game run in the bubble.

On Thursday, Ayton and the Suns went up by double digits at the end of the first quarter and never really looked back. They shot 66 percent from the field in the first half and stormed ahead by 19 at the half, 76-57. The Mavericks never got within 15 points the rest of the way, and the Suns led by as many as 28 in the one-sided affair.

However, they needed one of two teams to lose yesterday to stand a chance to get into the playoffs. Playing simultaneously, the Grizzlies put a damper on their playoff hopes with a 119-106 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks who were playing without their superstar player Giannis Antetokounmpo due to suspension. Their last hope rested on the shoulders of the Nets last night, hoping that they would upset the Blazers.

In their game against the Mavericks, the Suns got another strong performance from star guard Devin Booker. Booker finished with 27 points on 11-for-20 shooting from the field. He added seven rebounds and five assists. Dario Šarić added 16 points and six rebounds off the bench, and the two Camerons, Johnson and Payne, dropped in 15 points apiece. Mikal Bridges added 14.

Luka Dončić and Boban Marjanović paced the Mavericks with 18 points apiece, with the latter adding a career-high 20 rebounds. Justin Jackson came off the bench to score 13 for the Mavericks who were already positioned in the seventh spot in the standings in the west and will play the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.

As for the Suns, there is little doubt that they had a resurgent season, going from 19-63 and dead last in the west a year ago to the doorstep of the NBA playoffs in a COVID-19 stricken 2020 season.

Last night, they watched with hope and anticipation, undoubtedly the biggest Nets’ fans outside of Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the Suns’ eight straight wins to end the regular season is their longest streak in 10 seasons, ever since they won 10 in a row during the 2009-2010 campaign. They finished as the only undefeated team in the bubble, on the NBA Campus in Orlando, and won 10 out of 11 dating back to when the season was halted in March due to the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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