Did the Suns fall after 2 losses?


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CHARLOTTE – More than 100 players entered NBA health and safety protocols in December alone.

The league postponed 11 games in its 75th anniversary season.

In response, teams may sign players with tough 10-day deals, a move that has helped the NBA continue amid a global wave of COVID-19 cases.

“Without them we should have ended the season,” said Suns all-star Chris Paul.

Going into Thursday’s games, 558 players had seen the action this season setting a single-season record with more than half a season to go, The Associated Press reported.

In short, it’s been wild – and will likely get wilder.

So figuring out the best teams in the league is a challenge because so many players have been in the protocols. Still, the top three remain the same in the Republic’s latest power rankings until Saturday’s matches.

1. Golden State Warriors (28-7, last week)

The Warriors beat the Jazz in Utah without Draymond Green, who is in health and safety protocols.

That’s after scoring just 86 points in a home loss to the Nuggets and having a postponed rematch in Denver.

Stephen Curry delivered 28 points and nine assists and Andrew Wiggins scored 25 in his second Protocol comeback game.

Klay Thompson is yet to make his debut after missing two seasons with injuries, but it does happen.

Soon.

2. Phoenix Suns (27-8, last week 2)

With Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder and head coach Monty Williams in the protocols, the Suns are 1-2.

They lost to Memphis on a last second shot from Ja Morant and Boston, 123-108, as JaVale McGee was placed in protocols before facing the Celtics under .500.

The Suns trailed to 30.

Jalen Smith is averaging a double-double of 15 and 10 in their absence, senior assistant Kevin Young claimed his first victory as an interim head coach against Oklahoma City, but Phoenix has lost three of his last four matches.

Still one of the best teams in the league, but clearly not the same without two starters, a great replacement and a head coach.

3. Utah Jazz (26-10, 3rd last week)

Golden State ended Utah’s six-game winning streak by limiting Donovan Mitchell to 4 of 19 shots and Mike Conley to 4 of 13.

The Jazz also returned the ball 13 times, which isn’t bad, but it led to 25 points for Golden State.

Utah is strangely 14-7 at home this season after going 31-5 at Salt Lake City last season.

It was an opportunity to knock out the league’s top team, but Utah has a three-game streak this month when it plays Jan.23 at Golden State, Jan.24 in Phoenix and Jan.26 at home. against the Suns.

It will be a golden opportunity for Jazz to turn the West in its favor.

4. Chicago Bulls (24-10, last week, next 5)

DeMar DeRozan does it over and over again.

The veteran forward hit a buzzing 3 winners in back-to-back road wins over Indiana and Washington in less than 24 hours.

That alone deserves to put him back in the MVP conversation and Chicago in the top five, but here’s more for non-believers.

The Bulls have the longest winning streak with seven straight wins to climb to the top of the Eastern Conference. Now six of those wins are against teams with record losses.

The Wizards are 18-18, but there’s something special about Chicago right now.

5T. Milwaukee Bucks (25-13, last week, 5th)

The Bucks have won six in a row, but like Chicago, they feast on subs. 500 teams.

That will likely continue this week against Detroit and Toronto ahead of a Jan. 7 showdown in Brooklyn.

The reigning NBA champions are improving, however.

They are fifth in the offensive standings and eighth in the defensive standings.

And then there is this Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Average 28.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists in nine December games (7-2), the double MVP started the new year with a triple-double of 35 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in 32 minutes of Saturday’s victory over New Orleans.

It also went from 2 out of 4 to 3.

5T. Brooklyn Nets (23-11, last week 4th)

Kevin Durant missed three games in protocols before coming back Thursday against Philadelphia.

The Nets have consistently lost to the 76ers and to the Clippers on Saturday, even though James Harden posted 30-point triple doubles in every game.

I even got a goodbye from Joel Embiid.

All kidding aside, they had so many guys in protocols that led to postponed games. So we haven’t really seen what this team can really be yet, but an upset Durant spoke out after Saturday’s loss.

Everyone is waiting for Kyrie Irving to make his debut in the season which must be on the road since he did not receive the vaccine to play in New York.

Brooklyn’s next road game is Wednesday in Indiana. Stay tuned.

Next 5

Memphis Grizzly (23-14) – Huge back-to-back wins over the Suns and Lakers as Ja Morant averages 34.6 points in his last three games. Hit the game winner in Phoenix. Who is heckling him now in Memphis? I have a big Monday in Brooklyn.

Miami Heat (23-13) – Jimmy Butler is back after missing eight games with a tailbone injury. Winner of five games in a row, Miami remained in the chase in the East without him. This is a testament to its culture and its standards. Once in full health, the heat will be there.

Philadelphia 76ers (19-16) – Nice revenge on Brooklyn as the 76ers have won three in a row. Embiid is averaging 35.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in those wins. He really has the talent and the ability to be the best player in the game. I wonder if he knows that?

Cleveland Cavaliers (20-16) – Difficult break-up with Ricky Rubio suffering from a knee injury ending the season. The Cavs would trade for veteran and two-time NBA champion Rajon Rondo, who has been in protocols. While waiting to see how it fits into it.

Denver Nuggets (18-16) – They are 3-0 on that four-game road trip after narrow wins over the Clippers and Warriors, followed by a win in Houston after leading up to 31 points without their head coach, Michael Malone, who is elsewhere, in the protocols.

One last thing

Good year. Be careful. God protects you.

Do you have an opinion on the current state of the Suns? Contact Suns Insider Duane Rankin at [email protected] or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.


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