Even without suspended center Deandre Ayton, the Phoenix Suns are off to their best start in six seasons.
That’s nothing. Unbeaten Philadelphia is perfect despite the enforced absence of star center Joel Embiid.
The Suns, who have won four of their first six games for the first time since 2013-14, will attempt to extend that run when they host the 76ers in the first game of a six-game homestand on Monday.
The 76ers improved to 5-0 when Furkan Korkmaz hit a 3-pointer with four-tenths of a second remaining in a 129-128 victory at Portland on Saturday as Embiid served the first game of a two-game suspension for an altercation with Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns last week.
Philadelphia, which has won its first five games for the first time since the 2000-01 team was 10-0, overcame a 21-point deficit in the third quarter to beat the Trail Blazers. The Sixers have trailed by double-figures in all three road victories and have played two without Embiid, who will serve the second game of his suspension on Monday.
“It’s an emerging resilience,” coach Brett Brown said. “It is a growing disposition where they believe that if they defend that they have a chance.”
Ben Simmons had his second double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds against Portland, finishing two assists short of his 23rd regular-season triple-double. The Sixers went small without Embiid, when guard Matisse Thybulle started and wing Korkmaz opened the second half.
“It just shows how deep we are as a team,” Simmons said. “Everybody played a huge part.”
The 76ers have taken care of other business, too. They have outrebounded all five opponents and have a plus-12.0 rebounding margin per game. With the 6-foot-10 Simmons at the point, they average plus-8.4 assists per game.
The Suns are second in the league in assist margin (plus-7.1) and have had a higher shooting percentage than their opponent in all six games, an indication that coach Monty Williams’ offensive concepts are taking hold. The Suns have made at least 13 3-pointers in their past four games, the longest streak in franchise history.
Part of that has to with newcomer Aron Baynes, who has started the past five games in place of Ayton. Baynes set a career high with seven assists in a victory at Golden State on Wednesday and followed that with a career-high four 3-pointers in a victory at Memphis on Saturday.
“When we get that ball moving, it is hard to guard us,” Baynes told The Arizona Republic. “We’re confident that everyone who steps on the court knows the shots that they are going to take, and when they take that shot everyone is confident that it is going to go down as well.
“When you have that belief in your teammates … that’s when we start having fun as well.”
Baynes is averaging 17.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his five starts while adding a physical presence.
“Everybody is doing a lot of sacrificing,” Booker told the Republic. “Whether that is going after a loose ball, or Baynes taking a charge. Setting a better screen. We are all doing it.”
–Field Level Media