The Phoenix Suns won their fourth straight game on New Year's Day, with a home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. They did so without Kevin Durant, who sat out the game with hamstring tightness and may yet miss another game or two before returning to the lineup.
It was important for the Suns to win some games during their six-game homestand - the longest remaining run of games in The Valley for the rest of the season - and so far they've taken care of business by winning the first three of them. This Trail Blazers win featuring help from an unexpected source in the form of Bol Bol.
Even more important to Bol over the last four games has been center Jusuf Nurkic, with his positive impact going well beyond what he's doing on the court.
Prior to the current win streak, Nurkic missed a couple of games due to a personal matter which he later revealed to the media, but he has been back to his consistent best since returning. The win over the Trail Blazers was no different, with Nurkic chipping in with 18 points and seven rebounds in the 109-88 victory.
Nurkic has started all 31 games he has played in so far this season, and his 10.4 boards per game is tied for the second best mark of his career. That kind of reliability was not expected from the 29-year-old with the dodgy injury history, and it has been one of the main reasons why the trade which saw the Suns add him and Grayson Allen for Deandre Ayton and Toumani Camara has been a success.
This will count for little of Nurkic isn't available come the postseason - but going all the way back to media day - he has been saying all of the right things and backing it up with his play on the court in trying to help this franchise win. Nurkic is not interested in personal numbers, and only wants to win big.
Which is why the below comments made about Devin Booker in the aftermath of the win over the Trail Blazers - a game in which Booker struggled and finished with only 10 points - are just as important as Nurkic's contributions on the court. He is a real team-first player, and his words are backing this up when speaking to the media.
This is excellent leadership of a different kind by Nurkic to speak about the franchise cornerstone in this way. But saying he wants Booker to take all of the shots and that the team is only as good as their star player, Nurkic is also letting the other role players in the locker room know that they too need to fall in line behind Booker.
Which sounds easy to do - but as we've seen with comments made by Eric Gordon already this season - is much harder to put into practice. Every player is all about winning, until it actually comes down to it and some of them have to really sacrifice. Nurkic is leading the charge in that regard, and he was smart in heaping praise on Bradley Beal for the Suns' recent return to form as well.
Beal has struggled for game time since coming to The Valley last summer, first with a lingering back issue, before suffering a gnarly ankle sprain in a game against the New York Knicks. It is perhaps no surprise that the Suns have started winning on a more consistent basis now that he is playing again, and it was impressive to see him pour in a team high 21 points in the win over the Trail Blazers.
With Durant absent and Booker not feeling it to the tune of those aforementioned 10 points, Beal stepped up in a way the organization hasn't gotten to see so far this season, and Nurkic was right to point this out. It will have done his teammate's confidence the world of good to know that Nurkic recognizes his hard work since coming back from injury.
So while the amount of games played has been a nice surprise - and the 12.8 points and 10.4 rebounds a lovely bonus - Jusuf Nurkic has become the glue guy that the Suns needed from their center position this season. He works diligently on the court, never expects the ball on the offensive end and most importantly, has become a positive voice in the locker-room for this group.