Connect with us

Phoenix Suns

How ready are the Suns for the playoffs? Here’s everything they said this week

© Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, the Phoenix Suns are built for the playoffs perhaps better than any team in the NBA.

Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!

Owner Mat Ishbia went out and acquired two-time NBA champion Kevin Durant at the trade deadline last season and traded for three-time All-Star Bradley Beal this summer, going way over the second tax apron to make these moves happen. Ishbia did not make these moves for regular-season success.

Everyone in the Suns’ probable eight-man rotation outside of Drew Eubanks (0) has played in at least three playoffs before this season (Beal: 5, Devin Booker: 3, Grayson Allen: 4, Durant: 12, Nurkić: 4, O’Neale: 6, and Eric Gordon: 6). If you add these numbers up, the Suns have 40 playoff appearances across these seven players, and that’s excluding everyone else on the bench, like Thaddeus Young (9 playoffs), Isaiah Thomas (3 playoffs) and NBA-champion Damion Lee (2 playoffs).

Coach Frank Vogel has now gone to the playoffs in eight of his 12 years as a head coach, including an NBA championship and playing in three conference finals. He brought over a lot of assistants from his 2020 NBA championship as well.

General manager James Jones went to the playoffs 12 times in his playing career, appearing in six NBA Finals and winning three championships.

The Suns might not have done as well as they hoped in the first year with their core together, as they ended the regular season with a 49-33 record, good for the No. 6 seed in the NBA. But now, it’s playoff time. The Suns will take on the No. 3 Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 1 of their first-round series at 12:30 p.m. MST tomorrow.

Take a look at everything the Suns said about the playoffs during their two days of practice in Phoenix this week:

On the Difference of Last Year’s Team vs. This Year Entering the Playoffs

The Suns entered last season’s playoffs with Durant having only played eight regular season games for them and with a completely different team post-trade deadline.

With only one player (O’Neale) of the Suns’ probable eight-man playoff rotation joining the team at the deadline, Phoenix has much more continuity entering the playoffs.

That’s not to say that every player in this rotation outside of Booker and Durant are new to the team this year, as well as coach Vogel and his staff.

Last year, the Suns fell to the eventual-champion Denver Nuggets in six games in the second round, dealing with some injuries during this series.

So what is the difference between this year’s team and last year’s?

Devin Booker: “We were just learning on the fly. I think we did a pretty good job. Denver was a tough team, they were a well-oiled machine that’s played with each other for a long time, so that was kind of opposite of what we were going through. But Chris (Paul) went down early in that series also. We’ve just had a whole season. We’ve had adversity this season. We’ve had ups and downs, we’ve been through a lot. So hopefully, that’s all out the way, and once we go through a tough time, we’ve already kind of been through it.”

James Jones: “Totally different team, totally different NBA. I actually spend very little time trying to look backwards. I just look at how we’re different this month versus last month and how our opponents have improved. In relation to our opponents, I feel like we’re one of the teams that has built a tremendous amount of momentum at the end of the season. That’s what you need to carry you into a deep postseason (run).”

On the Regular Season as a Whole and Entering the Playoffs on a Hot Streak

The Suns were very up-and-down this season, which led to this sixth-place finish in the West. A lot of factors were at play in this, but a big one was health, especially early in the season.

Now, however, Phoenix enters the postseason having gone 7-3 in its last 10 games, which were the hardest last 10 games for any NBA team since the 2015-16 season. The Suns had the Big 3 all healthy for the last 18 games (41 overall) and went 12-6 in these contests.

These are the teams’ stats since Beal returned pretty much fully from his early season injuries (via Forbes Sports’ Shane Young):

How would the Suns describe their season in totality, as well as the strong close to the season?

Grayson Allen describing the season as a whole: “Interesting is a good word. I think we’ve been inconsistent as a group. When you look back at the schedule, every team can probably say this, but maybe us a little bit more than others, there’s probably 10 to 15 of our losses where you look back and you’re like man, we should have had some of those. A little bit of that is us being a new group. I feel like we’re at a spot now, especially ending the year where our defense has picked up, and that might have been the question mark from everybody on the outside was, ‘How are we gonna guard defensively?’ But I feel like our defense has been better than our offense the last month of the season, so I think we’re in a very good spot. And I think if you kind of put the anomalies away of those weird games, where it just seems like something’s off, I feel like there has been a steady improvement throughout the year in what we’ve been trying to do, so it’s a good time to be playing our best ball now.”

James Jones: “Our team is whole now. If you look at what we’ve dealt with, we won 49 games and are a sixth seed. You win 49 games in the (Eastern Conference), you’re a two seed. You win three or four more games (in the Western Conference), you’re talking about being a top two, three seed. You can look backwards or you can look forward, and I look forward to continuing to build the momentum that we’ve built over the last 10 games. I think we’ve started to see our team come together. There’s always been a narrative, ‘When the Big 3 are together.’ But I think if you look at our success, you see it’s much deeper than that. When our team is connected, we’re really, really tough to beat.”

Royce O’Neale: “We’ve evolved a lot. Offensively, I think trying to limit our turnovers, still creating more shots for each other. Defensively, I think we’ve been more connected, just helping each other out, having each other’s backs. And then I think just taking pride, taking the challenge with the other team.”

More from O’Neale: “I feel like the last 10 games we knew defense was gonna keep us in these games, help us win and put us in the right direction. I think just us getting better, communicating, talking to each other, having each other’s back, we’ve seen a big improvement each game.”

Describing Playoff Intensity

Everyone knows, in most sports, that the energy is upped in the playoffs and a “playoff intensity” is created.

With their experience it’s safe to say, the Suns up and down the roster know exactly what playoff intensity entails. So how would they describe it?

Bradley Beal: “It’s kind of weird because you guys hear us say like level of play, and it’s like, ‘Why aren’t you playing at that level all the time?’ Or, level of focus, it’s, ‘Why aren’t you always (focused)?’ I mean, it just heightens it. I don’t really know how to explain it, but everything is just heightened because everybody knows it’s just more at stake. There’s just less room for error. Especially play-in games, like I would be damned if I was the nine or 10 (seed). Just watching (the 9-10 play-in matchup) was just really tough just seeing how they just wanted that game so bad and every possession mattered. That’s definitely tough, but that’s the life we live, life we chose in some ways.”

Devin Booker: “It’s more detail-oriented, peeling back the layers of the game. You work on stuff in practice and go over scenarios that might happen once or twice throughout the whole series. You just try to check all boxes and just try to be the most prepared team.”

Grayson Allen: “It gets a lot more physical and the mental side of it with teams knowing every tendency, play call, adjustment, whatever it is. Guys are going to know what you’re going to do, so they can be a little bit more physical, they can try to disrupt it a little bit more, there’s more time to prepare. Both teams here have a week to prepare for the other team. So you’re more disruptive, more physical and the intensity of the game picks up.”

Royce O’Neale: “Physicality (changes). Things get tougher. Game gets a little more slow-paced, half-court (style). I mean, still great creating and playing to our advantage. Fastbreaks anytime we can, offensive pace keeping it high, just being ourselves.”

Frank Vogel on preparing for playoff intensity: “I’d say the last 10 games of our season has prepared us for that. We’ve got our tails kicked off a few times, quite frankly. There’s been lessons learned in those types of situations that I think have helped strengthen us. I think we showed more offensive toughness in the final three games of the year that we had in some of the prior games. And so hopefully that stretch took care of that.”

Devin Booker on his Playoff Performances

Devin Booker was arguably the best player in the first two rounds last season, joining the likes of Michael Jordan through the first eight games.

This is not a one-off either, as Booker has averaged 28 points his playoff career across 43 games, greater than any singular regular season average of his.

However, people are quick to bring up Booker’s stats in elimination games when discussing his playoff performances.

Devin Booker: “That’s for everybody else. I haven’t won a ring yet, that’s the ultimate goal. Obviously, you have some moments. Two games short of the goal. Being that close with with a lot of career left, gives me something to fight for and strive for.“

On the Changes in Preparation for the Playoffs

Vogel has been to the top of the top with winning a championship and been known to make a lot of mid-series adjustments.

How does his preparation for games change in the playoffs?

Frank Vogel: “Changes a lot (on a day-to-day basis with) the level of detail. It’s frustrating coaching in an 82-game season with all the things you want to do that you know you can’t do over the course of a marathon. From a workload standpoint, from a detailed, game-to-game standpoint, if you’re changing so much on a game-to-game basis over the course of an 82-game season, it’s not going to be done at a high level. But you can expect to make those types of detailed adjustments or gameplan schemes over the course of a two-week, one-opponent playoff series, so it is a time of year that I enjoy.” 

Bradley Beal on First Playoffs with Suns

Beal has not been past the first round of the playoffs since 2017 and left behind his 11 years with Washington Wizards hoping for the ultimate goal with the Suns: a championship.

In the last 5 games of the season, Beal averaged 26.8 points on insane 61/73/100 splits, 6.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.0 steals in 36.7 minutes, somehow doing all of that with a bad right ring finger strain.

He made it very clear that he wanted nothing else but to go to the postseason with his now infamous quote: “It’s time.” 

What does it mean that he’s now in the playoffs?

Bradley Beal: “That’s why I decided to come here: to be a part of meaningful games again, be a part of playoff basketball. The highest level of competition, everybody competing for the same thing. I haven’t been (to the playoffs) in two, three years, so I’m definitely excited about it. To me, it’s just more games on our schedule. I’m just super locked into our goal at hand. It’s gonna be a game at a time. Minnesota’s not going to be easy, not one bit. I’m looking forward to the series and looking forward to just being back, for sure.”

Royce O’Neale on Never Missing Playoffs in 7 Seasons

After being acquired from the Brooklyn Nets at the trade deadline, O’Neale has still yet to miss the playoffs in his seven seasons in the NBA with the Suns clinching.

O’Neale finished his 30 regular season games with the Suns averaging 8.1 points on 41/38/69 splits, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 0.9 steals in 25.1 minutes per game.

What does this playoff streak mean for him?

Royce O’Neale: “It means a lot, just each year being lucky, being in a situation to make the playoffs. Starting the year off to where I am now, just keep getting better and go as far as we can … I always say it, always had it as a goal to play in the playoffs every year, and I think just being fortunate to be able to play in the playoffs every year, no matter what. Finding ways to win.”

On Having a Full Week Off

The Suns avoided the play-in game by clinching the sixth-seed on the very last day of the season. By doing so, they got a full five days off and time to recover ahead of Game 1.

Beal loved this week off.

Bradley Beal: “I will say this, I needed these days. In hindsight, when talking about the play-in, it would have been tough. I could just feel like our bodies (feeling it). Those last few games were playoff games. It felt like Game 6, 7 of playoff games. For your body to recoup after that, it’s like, okay, I got hit by a bus. Let’s recoup. I’m glad we got a week off, but at the same time we actually got after it (Wednesday), want to keep ourselves engaged. That time off can also be detrimental.”

On What to Expect from Jusuf Nurkić in the Playoffs

Perhaps the position the Suns are most different in this season is the center with Jusuf Nurkić filling a role that Deandre Ayton played the past five seasons.

The Suns have subbed Nurkić out several times this season when teams go small, but that is very unlikely to happen against Minnesota with how much value they place in their bigs.

General manager James Jones had an interesting quote on how effective Nurkić can be in the playoffs.

James Jones: “He’s an unsung hero for us. I think quietly, he doesn’t get enough credit for what I’d say being one of our pillars. He’s played (76) games. From a rebounding, interior presence, from a playmaking, passing, but more importantly, from a selflessness aspect, he’s been unbelievable. We all know that being a big guy on a team that’s guard heavy or perimeter heavy, a lot of times you just find yourself out there just doing the things that no one notices. But we noticed, and so he gives us a physicality we haven’t had in years. It’s gonna serve us well in the playoffs because just look at the conference standings. There aren’t any easy days in the Western Conference.”


Everything the Suns Said about the Timberwolves

Everything the Suns said about the Timberwolves this week

Watch: Full Interviews

*Get the BEST Phoenix sports insider information, exclusive content, and access to our seasonal magazines! SIGN UP HERE to unlock our premium content!*

Brendan Mau is a senior writer covering the Phoenix Suns and more for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

More in Phoenix Suns