The Phoenix Suns are on the verge of pulling off one of the most impressive feats in recent NBA memory.
After finishing off their seventh consecutive victory in the bubble, a 130-117 victory on Tuesday over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Suns are one game away from being the only team to finish the NBA’s seeding games undefeated, at 8-0.
Suns star Devin Booker knows that his team still might not be able to get into the league’s new play-in round even if it does win Thursday against the Dallas Mavericks, but he said he is confident the Suns’ torrid play will be a major building block for them in the future, regardless of how the dominoes fall over the next few days.
“That’s life, man,” Booker said when asked about the possibility of 8-0 not being good enough. “We’re controlling what we can control. That’s the eight games that we play in. So I’m proud of my guys regardless. We came in here with the right mindset, and it could have been different. People could have been frustrated, coming off of a four-month hiatus to straight to basketball and leaving your family.
“But we came in, we locked in, and made the sacrifices that we need to make, so I don’t think there’s going to be any sad faces around here, whether we leave here in the playoffs or not. We’ve put the work in and we’ve grown as a team. We’ve took tremendous strides that I think will build for us for continuing years to come.”
The Suns, now 33-39 on the year, sit a half-game behind the Portland Trail Blazers, who beat the Mavs later Tuesday to move into eighth in the standings. Phoenix is tied for ninth with the Grizzlies, who lost to the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, but Memphis owns the tiebreaker.
Suns coach Monty Williams has repeatedly praised his team’s focus and attitude in recent days, acknowledging that Tuesday’s win allows his young group to finally bring their recent accomplishments into focus.
“We can finally look at it,” Williams said of the potential playoff possibilities. “It’s our next step. We know that we’re not totally in control of our fate, but we put ourselves in a good position. Nobody would have guessed the Phoenix Suns would be in this position before all of this started. And our guys have just battled and executed and made the plays necessary to give us a chance. I’m always in the mindset of the next right thing. And for us, it’s going to be how we approach tomorrow — whether it’s film or rest and recovery, but we do have it in our sights.”
For Booker, the opportunity to play in such a high-stakes game, after a slew of great performances in the bubble, is something he is excited about.
“These are the games I’ve been waiting to be in and play in,” Booker said after scoring 35 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out seven assists in the latest win. “I know it’s a different format than what it’d be usually, but we control the energy, we can feel the hype for the game and I’m looking forward to it.”
As the hype surrounding the Suns continues to build heading into Thursday, Williams admits he has considered that his team might win and still might not be able to get into the postseason.
“It’s crossed my mind,” Williams said. “I’m human just like everybody else. You look at the records, you look at the scenarios, and then once I do that too long, I get focused on the next thing that we have to do. It kind of gets me back a better mindset, because you can play mental gymnastics with yourself, and that’s not always healthy. But we’re all competitors; I’ve thought about a lot of scenarios.”
As Suns swingman Mikal Bridges said, “We’re here to win. You see us the past 70 games, we’re here to win. This is the biggest one. Let’s see if we can stay with what we’ve been doing, stay out there with the same mentality and don’t get selfish and keep playing for each other.”
As he has been throughout the past few weeks, Booker is just trying to focus on the task at hand. Now he is preparing for one of the most important games of his professional life on Thursday.
“We’re treating this as just another game,” Booker said. “We didn’t come in saying we wanted to win eight in a row. We just wanted to win one game, eight times. So we’re keeping it that way, and we’re excited for this matchup.”
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this story