Phoenix Suns next task: Punch the Timberwolves

Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /

The cliches are out in full force for the Phoenix Suns as they prepare to host the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves in a back-to-back at home Thursday and Friday.

You have to beat the bad teams. It’s a trap game. You can’t play down to the competition, etc.

It’s tough to calculate whether a top-four seed, or even a top-two seed (as the Suns sit No. 2 on Thursday), will mean as much come playoff time. How many fans would need to be allowed in the arena to make an impact?

One thing is certain: The Suns wouldn’t lose any confidence or momentum by winning the Pacific Division, so why not fire your shot now?

The Phoenix Suns need to sweep this pair of games to maintain their Pacific Division title aspirations.

With Minnesota having won two of three games — a legitimate sizzling streak for the 9-31 Timberwolves — prior to a Tuesday loss to the Lakers, the Suns need to be careful.

Watch for Devin Booker’s energy in the first quarter as he takes on his buddy, Karl Anthony-Towns, on Thursday. Booker is among the top 10 first-quarter scorers this season and needs to give Phoenix a quick burst again.

With the focus not entirely on the court because of trade-deadline rumors and discussion, the Suns are entering an intriguing stretch that includes both newcomers and the dearly departed.

Phoenix, with roles being fine-tuned as the playoff push continues, at least catches a break with the absence of Timberwolves Malik Beasley (suspension), D’Angelo Russell (knee) and — for Thursday at least — likely Jarrett Culver (toe), who is listed as doubtful.

Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said he hopes the 22-year-old will play on Friday.

And the Phoenix Suns have to be wary of Ricky Rubio, who has recently found his scoring touch.

The Timberwolves point guard, cast off by Phoenix after finishing 2020 as the team’s primary playkmaker, went more than a month without making a 3-point shot.

But, just in time for his reunion in the Valley, Ricky Rubio is averaging 11.5 points and 7.6 assists in his past 17 games. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field and — especially concerning for the Suns — he’s found his 3-point stroke, hitting almost 40 percent during the current stretch.

“I think it’s rhythm, I think it’s finding when and how to shoot within the system of the team,” Rubio said. “Knowing when to be aggressive, especially for a point guard that likes to really organize everybody.

“Sometimes I get lost out there, not thinking about my shot, and then I take it when it’s either too late or not in a rhythm. But now I feel like in a rhythm in the system and on the fly where I feel confident enough to shoot the ball at a high clip.”

The Suns took care of business (another useful cliche) in Monday’s rout of Memphis; they need to keep their foot on the throats of inferior competition, beginning with the first quarter.

Phoenix Suns and power ranking love. dark. Next