Hot Suns

The Suns are scorching hot, and, through a fourth of the 2021-22 season of the National Basketball Association, have underscored their immediate past Finals appearance to be no fluke. For a short while, it didn’t appear to be so; the start of the season was clouded by news of starting center DeAndre Ayton locked in a contract dispute with the franchise, threatening to disrupt the esprit de corps that enabled it to be greater than the sum of its parts. And they did search for it in the beginning, with their lone win in their first four starts courtesy of the revamped Lakers.

But then the Suns clicked, as — to be fair — they always argued they would. And for a full month spanning 16 contests to date, they haven’t yet been treated to the bitter taste of defeat. As with all successful runs, they’ve learned to win the outings they should with comfort, as well as make statements en route. Their latest conquest has them exposing the Nets — highly touted and on top of the Eastern Conference — as inadequate at best. That they did it on the road, in front of 18,071 hostile fans at the Barclays Center, and on the second of a back-to-back set, serve only to highlight their ascendancy.

If the Suns are extremely confident, it’s because head coach Monty Williams has instilled in them a sense of pride in the strides they make, no matter how small. They take encounters a play at a time, and they’re propped up by both youth and experience. Yesterday saw them led by fifth-year Devin Booker and 15-season veteran Chris Paul in equal measure; the former put up 30 markers with 18 shots, while the latter filled his stat line to become the only player in league history to score 20,000 points, dish out 10,000 assists, and grab 5,000 rebounds.

Considering how important Paul is to the cause, it’s hard to imagine that he was seemingly destined for a quiet exit not too long ago; injuries marked snakebitten campaigns with the Clippers and Rockets before he managed to reboot his career with the Thunder. And with the Suns, he’s deemed the glue that binds them together. His in-your-face style that demands the best from those around him have grated many an All-Star, but not the rest of the purple and orange. Instead, they welcome the lessons he gives, seeking to look beyond the manner in which he imparts them.

Forget that Ayton’s contract status remains in limbo, and that owner Robert Sarver is mired in controversy. The Suns have managed to hurdle obstacles on the court and off, and there’s little reason to believe they won’t keep doing the same as they aim not just to book another Finals appearance, but to prove worthy of the hardware. Up next are the West-pacing Warriors — and they’re clearly ready for the test, as well as with the other tests to come. They may not win, but if they don’t, it won’t be because they beat themselves.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.