After winning just four of their first 28 games, the Phoenix Suns have won five of their last seven contests.
Following their overtime victory against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, the players and coaches were in a great mood. Meek Mill‘s “Cold Hearted II” was blasting from the locker-room speakers and players were trying to make each other laugh by photobombing postgame interviews. This group is having fun right now, and they’re hopeful that this could be the turning point for their season.
During this seven-game stretch, Phoenix has posted the seventh-best net rating in the NBA (+4.3). They have the seventh-best offensive rating (scoring 111.5 points per 100 possessions) and the 10th-best defensive rating (allowing 107.1 points per 100 possessions) over the last seven games.
“The last two days, spending Christmas in a hotel room, it wasn’t fun being away from the families. And playing a back-to-back before that [was difficult],” Suns head coach Igor Kokoškov said. “We were trying to regroup ourselves to find energy and that kind of mental focus to get through this game. It wasn’t easy. We were on the road the last 11 days. This game was very important for us, to show the true face and character of the team. I’m glad we found the energy and focus, and found way to win.”
The Suns’ franchise cornerstones have been outstanding as of late, which is a big reason for their recent success. Devin Booker is averaging 30.7 points, 8.0 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 threes and 1.0 steal during the winning streak. Meanwhile, Deandre Ayton is putting up 18.4 points, 13.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks (while shooting 60.2 percent from the field) over that span.
“On a long road trip, five out of seven games won? That is amazing,” Ayton said. “That is a big step.”
“I think we got a taste of winning, and [that desire to win] is contagious,” Booker said. “I think any time in the season can be that turning point. Some teams just click sometimes. I remember [two years ago], the Miami Heat ran off 13 straight. Last year, the Utah Jazz [won 17 of 20] late in the season. You never know when a team can click and something can start working. Maybe it’s an adjustment, or a new player… We just added Kelly [Oubre]. You never know what it can be, and that’s what keeps me going.”
Phoenix acquired Oubre from the Washington Wizards in the Trevor Ariza deal. Oubre is a two-way player who makes a lot of hustle plays, which is exactly what the Suns needed (especially since certain players weren’t playing their hardest at times earlier in the season).
Not only is Oubre making an immediate impact, he’s only 23 years old. He’ll be a restricted free agent this summer, but it’s very possible he’ll stay in Phoenix and become part of their young core long-term. So far, Oubre is thrilled with the change of scenery.
“Everybody is hungry to win,” Oubre said. “Everybody has the same mindset out there. There are a bunch of competitors here who strive to be the best that they can be… Everybody is super dope. Everybody comes to work every day with an eagerness to get better. We push ourselves to get better each and every day. To be so young and already have that mindset? Everything will be turning [around] very shortly in the next few years.”
Since arriving in Phoenix, Oubre is averaging 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.3 threes and 1.0 blocks per game, while shooting 47.4 percent from three-point range.
“I just try to bring energy, get defensive stops, run the floor. I just want to be that spark,” Oubre said. “I can definitely do that. I have been doing that my whole career, so it is nothing new to me.”
It didn’t take long for Oubre to win his teammates over. It helps that the Suns are playing their best basketball of the season since his arrival.
“He has been playing super hard,” Ayton said of Oubre. “He is matching the same energy I have, that we all have. It is beautiful. He fits right in. You can tell he wants to win and he tries his best on defense as well. He is [getting] on me already! I don’t know how long he’s been here and he’s telling me to be more accountable and to just to take things more personally. I like that.”
When asked what Oubre brings to the team, Booker smiled and said, “So much swag.”
“He knows how to play the game,” Booker continued. “I have known Kelly for a really long time. We were in the same draft class, and I really know his game. He knows how to play and he is very versatile, he can guard one through four and he can play one through four too. He is just a guy that you know is going to go out there and get it done.”
Phoenix still has plenty of things they must work on, and every player on the team would acknowledge this. But when you’ve won 24 or fewer games in each of the last three seasons, positive stretches like this are important for a young, developing team. Even if they come back down to Earth, this kind of experience is great for the Suns (who are one of the youngest teams in the NBA).
One interesting thing to note: the Suns are a tight-knit group and they’ve developed an us-against-the-world attitude that seems to have brought them even closer.
“Losing is personal. It hurts. The media we have today, the way they treat our organization, we just really try to block them out. It is us against the world,” Ayton said. “[When we think like that], it is more of an edge and we play more as a unit. We use that negative energy people are throwing at us against them… Our arena will be lit for the rest of the season, because we’re not trying to stop [winning] anytime soon.
“We are on the rise.”