The Phoenix Suns have overcome a slow start to stand eight games over .500 at the 50-game mark and look to continue their solid play Tuesday when they host the Milwaukee Bucks.
Phoenix was just 14-15 after losing to the Dallas Mavericks on Christmas night but has since gone 15-6, a big reason being Bradley Beal’s return to health.
Back and ankle injuries limited Beal’s availability earlier this season, but he is now meshing with fellow stars Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. He has averaged 18.1 points in 26 games.
Beal was on fire on Sunday when he played his first game at Washington since the Wizards traded him to the Suns in the offseason. Beal poured in a season-best 43 points on 16-of-21 shooting, including a 4-of-5 effort from 3-point range.
“It wasn’t like something we talked about in the locker room, but you can kind of sense the energy of the team, like that’s what we were going to do,” Beal said of being the first option. “And I’m not mad at it.”
What stands out most to Phoenix coach Frank Vogel is how quickly the star trio has come together since Beal became healthy.
“Every minute they’re on the floor together helps,” Vogel said. “I don’t know how many minutes we’ll have. Hopefully, we have the rest of the regular season. But all those minutes together can help build that cohesion. We’re at a continuity disadvantage, so to speak, against some other teams, like the reigning champs, Denver, who has mostly everybody back.
“We’re a team that’s trying to build that cohesion throughout the course of the season. Hopefully, we have as much of it as possible. Our goal is to be the best team in the league come playoff time.”
Milwaukee is the second-best team in the Eastern Conference but has been sputtering, going 1-3 on a five-game road trip that concludes in Phoenix.
The Bucks led by as many as 19 points on Sunday before collapsing in the fourth quarter against the Utah Jazz, falling 123-108.
The Jazz outscored Milwaukee 40-13 over the final 12 minutes. The Bucks were just 4 of 17 from the field during the decisive stanza.
“We couldn’t script better shots,” Bucks coach Doc Rivers said. “Every shot was wide open, but everything was front rim.”
Utah’s crowd revved the home team into a frenzy during the final quarter as the Jazz continued to pounce. But Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t think his club’s energy took a dip.
“I don’t think it was the energy, I think we need to make shots,” Antetokounmpo said. “It was a lot of wide-open shots that we didn’t make. You make one or two, the momentum stops and it’s a whole different game.”
Antetokounmpo recorded 33 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds against Utah while Bobby Portis added 27 points for the Bucks.
Damian Lillard scored just 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting one night after being red hot in a 129-117 road win over the Mavericks. Lillard made all five of his 3-point attempts and was 10 of 11 overall while scoring 30 points against Dallas.
This is the first game between the Bucks and Suns this season. The Bucks went 2-0 against the Suns last season and have won the past three regular-season meetings.
Also, Milwaukee beat Phoenix in six games in the 2021 NBA Finals.