The Phoenix Suns have been the kings of the bubble.
Phoenix (30-39), which is 4-0 since the NBA regular season resumed earlier this month, will play the Miami Heat (43-26) on Saturday night as part of the league’s restart near Orlando.
While the Heat has already clinched a playoff berth in the East, the Suns are trying to catch the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
“We’re feeling great,” Suns forward Dario Saric said. “But this (winning streak) hasn’t happened overnight.
“Since the first week of May, guys have been working hard every day. We worked on our games, and it has paid off for us. We’re playing freely and without pressure.”
The Suns are led by fifth-year pro Devin Booker, a 6-5 shooting guard and the team’s first-round pick (13th overall) in 2015. He tops the team in scoring (26.2) and ranks second in assists (6.6).
Booker, a first-time All-Star this season, is not the only Suns standout. There’s also Deandre Ayton, a 6-11 center and the No. 1 overall pick in the. 2018 draft. He leads the team in rebounds (11.7) and blocks (1.7) and ranks second in scoring (18.9).
But it’s more than just Ayton’s numbers that have stood out.
“He’s doing an unbelievable job of screening,” Booker said of Ayton. “He has grown as a player. He’s picking things up.”
Suns point guard Rickey Rubio — now in his third NBA organization — leads the team in assists (8.7) while chipping in with a career-high 13.3 scoring average.
But as good as things are going for the Suns, they do have two players — 6-7 forward Kelly Oubre and 6-10 forward Aron Baynes out due to knee injuries. Oubre is third on the team in scoring (18.7), Baynes is tied for fifth (11.5), and they have combined to make 83 starts this season.
Booker said the Suns still have plenty of talent, even with the injuries.
“We have four games left (in the regular season),” Booker said. “We have to keep fighting through.”
Meanwhile, the Heat are also dealing with injuries. They are missing their two top scorers — wing Jimmy Butler (sore right foot) and point guard Goran Dragic (sprained left ankle).
Neither of them played on Thursday night, when the Heat blew a 23-point lead and lost 130-116 to the team with the best record in the NBA — the Milwaukee Bucks.
Butler has missed two straight games and is unlikely to be ready for the Suns. Dragic, who sat out Thursday, is day to day.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did not appear to be too dejected about the blown lead against the Bucks.
“It’s not like we were up by 40,” he said. “The way the NBA is played now, you have to play consistently for 48 minutes.”
Without Butler, the Heat’s best all-around player has been center Bam Adebayo, a first-time All-Star this year. He was called for five fouls against the Bucks and that contributed to only 22 minutes, six points, six assists and five rebounds against Milwaukee.
For the season, however, he is averaging 16.1 points, a team-high 10.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists and a team-high 1.3 blocks.
Miami’s most dangerous shooter is Duncan Robinson, who is fifth on the team in scoring (13.4). He leads the team in three-pointers made per game (3.7) and three-point percentage (44.8).
–Field Level Media