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Devin Booker and Suns are wildest things about West race

Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

When Devin Booker packed for Orlando, Fla., he probably didn't think his Phoenix Suns would be one of the biggest stories during the NBA's restart to its season. Nobody thought Phoenix would be undefeated at the midpoint of the eight seeding games inside the bubble.

On a day that felt a lot like the first Thursday of the NCAA tournament, with 12 teams playing in games that spanned almost 12 hours, Booker felt like the biggest star, the leader of the bubble's Cinderella team running through upset after upset, beating the Indiana Pacers, previously unbeaten in the restart, 114-99.

"I mean it's fun, it's everything I could ask for. ... It's the winning part that most excited me," Booker said on a videoconference while wearing a Kobe Bryant shirt. "I've been in the NBA five years now and haven't had that much success. But I'm working hard every day to turn that narrative, to change that narrative. We have a good bunch in here to do it."

The four straight restart wins have Phoenix firmly in the hunt for the No. 9 spot in the West -- a spot that would earn them a shot in a play-in tournament in a massive upset to any projections from a week ago.

"We're humans, right? We look at that stuff. But it's not always the primary focus," Suns coach Monty Williams said of his team's odds to make the playoffs. "Everyone has the goal of making the playoffs, but there's stuff you have to do to get there. We just try to dial in on those things. If we take care of those things, we may have a chance. And that's our mentality.

"We're grateful to be here, humble for the opportunity and yet, we attack it. That's something that we've hopefully done since I've been here."

 

When the season was suspended and it wasn't clear how many teams would be headed to whatever restart the NBA could scrape together, the Suns couldn't have been counting on an invite. They've shown promise in stretches before (a 7-4 start to the season included wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers), but inconsistency quickly had them submerged below .500.

The Suns have flourished since gaining entrance as the last team into the bubble. Led by Booker, with his 28 points and 6.5 assists per game, and former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, the Suns are just two games behind Memphis, currently the No. 8 seed.

The Suns have become the embodiment of the bubble, a place where teams believe the unprecedented circumstances have leveled the playing field, where home-court advantage doesn't exist and where it's becoming increasingly harder to surprise anyone.

Outside of the Lakers clinching the top spot and the Dallas Mavericks likely stuck in seventh, everything else in the West is in flux. While it's a fun twist for fans to watch the Suns make things messier, for Williams it's just part of the work, a small step in Phoenix's effort to move out of the organizational hell they've lived in -- a dozen years with nine different coaches and only one playoff trip.

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