Improving Suns look to defeat Wolves again

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Phoenix got a little feisty in the final game of its recent road trip, when stars collided.

The Suns’ Devin Booker and Houston’s James Harden got into a brief shoving match after Booker put a semi-hug foul on Harden as he attempted a layup with just less than six minutes remaining in the Rockets’ 115-109 victory Saturday.

It could have been a sign of frustration — the Suns led by as many as 11 points in the game, and a victory would have made their four-game trip a marked success after close victories over Charlotte and New Orleans around a decisive loss to Orlando.

“Just competing,” Booker told the Arizona Republic.

“If you guys don’t like that, you don’t like NBA basketball, for real.”

The Suns have become real and relevant in coach Monty Williams’ first season, and they will bring that into an attempt to beat Minnesota for the second time in 17 days when the teams meet in Phoenix on Monday.

The Timberwolves will look for their first victory in the last stop of their four-game trip that has included a seven-point loss to Dallas, an improbable loss to Oklahoma City — they had a two-point lead with 1.1 seconds remaining before losing in overtime — and a blowout 142-125 loss to the Lakers on Sunday.

The trip has gotten progressively worse. The Wolves have given up 121, 139 and 142 points in the three losses, and Anthony Davis had 50 against them on Sunday, when Minnesota had eight players in double figures.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 19 points against the Lakers but was only 1-of-7 from 3-point range. Towns had made 72 treys on 43.4 percent shooting and was averaging 3.8 makes a game as the Wolves use a scheme designed to take advantage of his range. He is on pace to more than triple his previous season high of 142 treys set last year.

“What that does is that it creates more space for other guys to drive,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said of putting Towns on the perimeter. “When ‘fives’ are out of the paint and along with ‘KAT’ on the perimeter, that opens up driving lanes. We just have to get better finishing at the rim.”

The Suns have not been over .500 since their 100-98 victory over the Timberwolves on Nov. 23, when they moved to 8-7, but despite losing five of the last seven, the progress is undeniable.

The Suns needed 42 games to get their 10th victory in 2018-19. They halved that this season, getting there in 21.

“We never get too high, we never get too low, and we’ve been talking about that since the beginning of the season,” Booker told the Republic.

“That’s one of my favorite things about this team. When we won three games in a row, it was the same spirit in the gym as when we lost three in a row. We’ve got to remain that through 82 games. Come in every day and no matter the results, control what we can control and play hard.”

Booker scored 35 points against Houston after getting 44 against New Orleans, his first consecutive back-to-back 30-point games in a season strewn with them. He has three 30-point games in the last eight and four in the last 10.

Booker was one assist short of his first career triple-double the last time the teams met, with 35 points and a season-high 12 rebounds.

Aron Baynes (calf) has missed the last four games and is not expected to play against Minnesota, and Mikal Bridges (finger) and Dario Saric (back) are questionable.

Bridges, a reserve, has taken advantage of more playing time recently and has scored in double figures for five straight games while making 25-of-39 field goal attempts with five 3-pointers. Bridges had 14 points and made all five of his field-goal attempts against Houston.

–Field Level Media

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