Most teams struggle when their leading scorer is sidelined for an extended period. The Phoenix Suns might actually be getting better.
The Suns are 5-2 without two-time All-Star Devin Booker, who is out with a left hamstring strain and will miss Sunday’s meeting against the visiting Charlotte Hornets.
Booker could return as soon as Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Suns can afford to be patient.
Phoenix has won 22 of its last 24 games and improved to 23-5 overall with Thursday’s 118-98 victory over the Washington Wizards.
Booker’s absence has created more opportunities for players such as center JaVale McGee and forward Cam Johnson, who has scored in double figures in eight straight games.
Booker’s injury might have thrown lesser teams off-course, but other teams don’t have 11-time All-Star Chris Paul running the offense.
Paul finished with 12 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals in Thursday’s win and leads the league in assists at 10.1 per game.
“I think we’re developing a lot of confidence with Book being out,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “I think guys playing with Chris in this environment has helped us, so when we get Book back, I think we’ll be that much better.”
The Suns are averaging 111 points per contest and will be a difficult matchup for Charlotte, which ranks last in the league in points allowed per game at 116.6.
The Hornets allowed 81 first-half points and fell behind by 29 in Friday’s 125-116 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
“We’re not playing with pride,” Charlotte forward Miles Bridges said. “We are getting scored on. Nobody is getting mad at getting scored on. We’re just worrying about the offense right now. I feel that if we put our main focus on defense, then offense will come. Our offense is there. We just got to focus on defense.”
One bright spot in Friday’s loss was point guard LaMelo Ball, who returned after being in the NBA’s health and safety protocols for six games and had 27 points, five assists and four rebounds.
Veteran guard Gordon Hayward was held to six points in the loss after scoring a season-high 41 in Wednesday’s 131-115 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
Hayward is averaging 18 points on 46.6 percent shooting for the Hornets, who are 1-2 midway through their six-game road trip.
Charlotte’s thin frontcourt includes forward Cody Martin, who is averaging 14.9 points in seven games this month. Martin will be tasked with helping to slow down Phoenix center Deandre Ayton.
Ayton has posted two straight double-doubles since missing a pair of games with a non-COVID illness.
The 6-foot-11 star figures to be well-rested after playing just 24 minutes in Wednesday’s rout of San Antonio.
If Charlotte doesn’t establish a strong defensive presence early against the Suns, it could make for a long evening.
Bridges is hoping his team can avoid a repeat of Friday’s loss, when the Hornets allowed Portland star Damian Lillard to score a season-high 43 points.
“We got to start off games more physical,” Bridges said. “We let everybody come in comfortable. We can’t do that against the Suns. They got CP3 (Chris Paul), who is one of the best pick-and-roll players to ever play the game. So if we come out like that against them, it’s going to be the same result. We just got to continue to get better, and come out physical and play hard.”
–Field Level Media