The Phoenix Suns are one of many NBA teams dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, but it isn’t affecting the win-loss ledger.
The Suns look to record win No. 30 when they host the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night as they continue one of the best starts in franchise history.
Phoenix’s top start through 38 games was 31-7 during the 2004-05 season, a team led by superstar Steve Nash. A win against the Clippers would place the Suns at 30-8.
And Phoenix is thriving despite five players being in COVID-19 protocol — big men Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee, forwards Jae Crowder and Abdel Nader, along with guard Landry Shamet.
Suns coach Monty Williams was in protocol for four games before returning for Tuesday’s 123-110 road win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
“It bothered me like you can’t imagine not to be there,” Williams said. “It did knock me on my butt for a few days, and that kind of surprised me. Typically, when I have a bad flu, I’ve always been able to function, but for about three or four days, man, I was totally toast.”
Star guard Devin Booker poured in 33 points against New Orleans for his fourth 30-point effort in the past seven games. Booker is averaging 27.1 points during the stretch.
Mikal Bridges established season bests of 23 points and five 3-pointers while Chris Paul contributed 11 points and 15 assists for his 16th double-double of the campaign. Paul leads the NBA in assists at 10.1 per game.
The Suns also received a stunning contribution from journeyman center Bismack Biyombo, who was signed to fill the gap with Ayton and McGee both sidelined. He had 16 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots against New Orleans and is averaging 13.5 points and six boards in two games.
“He just fits our culture, man. Biz know how to play,” Paul said of Biyombo. “Whatever you need — screen, rebounding. Biz just came from the crib. He’s a consummate pro.”
One of Phoenix’s losses this season came against the Clippers — a 111-95 rout on Dec. 13 at Los Angeles. Booker (hamstring) and Ayton (non-COVID-19 illness) missed the game.
That victory improved the Clippers to 26-5 in their last 31 meetings with the Suns. Marcus Morris Sr. played well in last month’s win by matching his season best of 24 points and collecting a season-high 11 rebounds.
Los Angeles isn’t playing so well now with losses in seven of the past 10 games. In addition, the Clippers lost star Paul George (elbow) during the stretch, and he might not return until the latter part of this month.
The loss of George hurts even more with star Kawhi Leonard still sidelined after the ACL injury he sustained in last season’s playoffs.
Los Angeles was routed 122-104 by the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. The Clippers were outscored 64-42 in the paint and had nearly as many turnovers (21) as assists (22) in a subpar effort.
“You got to bring it every night in this league, all the guys, even guys that aren’t playing,” said forward Justise Winslow, who scored a season-best 15 points.
Los Angeles was without three players in the protocol — Luke Kennard, Brandon Boston Jr. and Ivica Zubac — and two due to ankle injuries in Nicolas Batum and Isaiah Hartenstein.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue missed the past three games due to COVID-19 protocol and it is unclear if he has a chance to be cleared by Thursday. Lue is in quarantine in Toronto.
Acting coach Brian Shaw is still thinking about the sloppy 21 turnovers against Minnesota.
“I don’t know how many times when we had two-on-one, three-on-one advantages, and instead of just making the simple play, we turned the ball over,” Shaw said.
–Field Level Media