Sports

Suns blow out the Blazers

Ayton comes within two points of a double-double

DeAndre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns ended their preseason in the National Basketball Association (NBA) on a strong note on Wednesday. They’ve won their last three games, all by convincing margins.

The Suns slaughtered the Portland Trail Blazers, 119-74, at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona, on Wednesday.

This time, the Bahamian big man didn’t play at all in the second half. He and the Suns did significant damage in the first half, and their reserves took over the rest of the way in the wire-to-wire win. The Suns finished with a 3-1 win/loss record in the preseason, winning by an average of 28.67 points in their last three games.

Starting at center, Ayton had an efficient night in limited minutes. He finished 4-for-7 from the field for eight points and added 11 rebounds, an assist and a steal in a little over 15 minutes on the floor. The Suns were up 23-11 after the first quarter and 59-38 at the half. There was no need for any of the Suns’ regulars to play in the second half.

Ayton, who has openly voiced his displeasure on an inability to reach a new deal with the Suns as yet, is still going out there and producing on the court. According to reports, the franchise is reluctant to offer the five-year rookie max extension of $172.5 million, and has until October 8 to complete a deal.

On the court, the 23-year-old 6’11” starting center of the Suns has been sensational, helping his team come within two games of winning the NBA title last year. Ayton blossomed in the playoffs, posting 14 double-doubles, and the Suns went 10-4 in those games. He averaged 14.4 points and 10. 5 rebounds a year ago, and took those numbers up to 15.8 and 11.8 in the playoffs, helping the Suns make a deep playoff run.

“We were two wins away from winning a championship and I just really want to be respected, to be honest. To be respected like my peers are being respected by their teams,” said Ayton.

The Bahamian big man, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, is referring to players in his draft class such as Luka Dončić of the Dallas Mavericks, Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Michael Porter Jr. of the Denver Nuggets. All four have received rookie max extensions going into this season.

On Wednesday, Ayton played eight minutes and 36 seconds in the opening quarter, and was on the court for just six minutes and 34 seconds in the second quarter before sitting for the rest of the game.

He took two shots in the opening quarter and hit one of them to finish with two points in that stanza. The Suns raced out to an 8-0 lead and never looked back. They took their first double digit lead at the 3:09 mark of the first quarter on a three-point shot from Cameron Johnson, 18-8. The Suns were in total control in the opening quarter, taking a 23-11 lead after one.

It was much of the same in the second quarter as Ayton and the Suns kept the pressure on. Ayton was 3-for-5 from the field, finishing with six points and adding four rebounds in that stanza before sitting for the rest of the game.

The Suns led 59-38 at the half and were in cruise control in the second half, leading by as much as 45 points.

Devin Booker had 17 points to lead the Suns, Landry Shamet came off the bench to score a dozen, and Johnson and Abdel Nader had 11 apiece. JaVale McGee was their only other player in double figures with 10. Damian Lillard had 12 to lead the Trail Blazers, and CJ McCollum and Robert Covington dropped in 10 apiece.

In the Suns’ four preseason games, Ayton averaged 10.25 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

They will now be off for a week before hosting the Denver Nuggets in their season opener. That game will be played next Wednesday at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, starting at 10 p.m.

The other Bahamian in action on Wednesday, rookie Kai Jones with the Charlotte Hornets, had a miserable night, going 0-for-7 from the floor and 0-for-6 from the free throw line. He didn’t score in 16 minutes and 10 seconds on the floor, but pulled down four rebounds and had an assist.

The Hornets were drubbed, 127-59, on their home court, marking the largest margin of victory in a preseason game between NBA teams since 1995. Jones and the Hornets ended their preseason with a 1-3 record, and will open the 2021-2022 regular season against the Indiana Pacers at the Spectrum Center, in Charlotte, North Carolina, next Wednesday. That game will get underway at 7 p.m.

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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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