On Tuesday night, the Phoenix Suns killed two birds with one stone in their 121-110 win over the Lakers. Phoenix eliminated the Lakers from playoff contention, and more importantly, the Suns picked up their 63rd win of the season, setting the franchise record for wins in a season.
The previous record of 62 wins occurred during the 1992-93 and 2004-05 seasons.
Suns head coach Monty Williams, who became the head man in 2019, helped spearhead the turnaround. Phoenix went from losing 63 games in the 2018-19 season to winning 63 games and possibly more this season.
“It started with the young guys we had that first year, the bubble, last year, and then the individual stuff that we’ve seen guys achieve along the way, and then tonight is unbelievably special for so many people,” Williams said post-game.
“Not just the organization, but the people in the city that have basically birthed the Suns. Everywhere I go, people talk about the Suns are their baby, and to have us playing this way, achieving this goal tonight is huge for the valley. It’s hard to put it into words, but we’re all pretty grateful, and we talk about celebrating everything, and there’s just so many people that have a huge part in this, from the players, who are the main cogs in it all, but in particular, ownership, James (Jones), but also people like Jay Gaspar and Denise Romero, who just have grown up in this organization and it’s special to see them excited about what we’re doing.”
Maybe the biggest reason for the turnaround in Phoenix was the acquisition of Chris Paul. None of this happens without CP3. Paul also became the first player in NBA history to be a part of four teams that set franchise records for wins, but for the 12-time All-Star, who helped lead the Phoenix to the NBA Finals last season, it’s all about winning a title.
“It’s all good and well,” Paul said. “It would be nice to put a championship with all that. That’s the goal; that’s what we’re working towards. I don’t take that lightly, though, because it’s a lot of work; it’s a lot of hard work that goes into year-in and year-out playing and competing. At the end of the day, you want to have a chance. You at least want to have a chance, and I’m grateful to be here with this group.”
Deandre Ayton was there for the 19-63 season, and he, like everybody else on the Suns, is happy to get to 63 wins.
“Me and Mikal (Bridges) were looking at each other four years ago, bro; we were at the bottom pit of the barrel,” Ayton said. “We almost thought we weren’t a part of the league. For a minute, I thought we were playing people to play us my rookie year, the way that we were losing. We here, man, and seeing all the fans and the community just so happy, just so supportive, all that helps.”
Winning 63 games is all well and good, but the Suns have to cap it off with a championship!
For the Cavs(8-9), defeating the world champion Los Angeles Lakers(14-4) is a tall order, but defeating the Lakers when LeBron James scores 21 points in a quarter is nearly impossible.
James returned to Cleveland on Monday night and went off. In 38 minutes, James was 19/26 from the field, including 7/11 from three-point range, and finished with 46 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. The four-time MVP scored 21 of his 46 points in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers moved to 10-0 on the road with a 115-108 victory over Cleveland.
At 36, James became the fifth player 36 or older to score 46 points or more in an NBA game.
“You take your hat off to him,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said about James. “There is a reason why he is who he is, and he accomplished all the things that he’s accomplished. If he’s making shots like that, you pat him on the butt. You try to do more the next time and force him to take an even more difficult shot. When a guy is doing what he did tonight, he’s hard to deal with.”
Andre Drummond led the way for Cleveland with a double-double of 21 points and 15 rebounds.
After getting blown out in Boston on Sunday, Bickerstaff wanted a better effort from the Cavaliers on Monday, and he got it. Cleveland was right there with the Lakers all night long and led by two heading into the fourth quarter.
“I think they responded the right way,” he said. “This game was not lost by our effort. It was not lost by our scrap. They gave us what they had tonight. They competed. They played together; they competed together. That’s not where this game was lost tonight.”
Bickerstaff was not happy with the officiating, and he felt the officials did not give his team the same respect they gave the Lakers. Los Angeles shot 12 more free throws than Cleveland on Monday night.
“I think it was some momentum-changing calls that were made or weren’t made,” he said. “I think our guys showed up and gave the effort to deserve the respect that both teams should garner, and tonight, I don’t think that was the case. The Lakers are a hell of a basketball team, don’t get me wrong. They deserve everything they have coming, but our guys scrap and play hard and deserve the same.
“Were there plays that we made down the stretch where we could’ve made better decisions, sure. When you’re in a position where your playing uphill, you have to be even better and be even more certain with your decisions, your shot selection, your defensive execution, so we could’ve been better there as well, but it’s hard to overcome the champs-plus.”
The Cavaliers went 2-2 in this four-game stretch against the Nets(2x), Celtics, and Lakers. Going 2-2 is a win for this team, and outside of the Boston game, they played some pretty good basketball, which is progress. Now, they prepare the Pistons on Wednesday night.