Marquese Chriss has 17 points, hot-shooting Suns beat Hornets 120-103

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns were 20th in the NBA in field goal percentage, making 45 percent of their shots on the season.

On Thursday night, they got hot.

Marquese Chriss scored 17 points and the Suns shot a season-best 59.7 percent in a 120-103 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

Chriss made 6 of 9 shots and missed roughly a full quarter after straining a calf early in the first period.

T.J. Warren added 16 points and eight rebounds, and Alan Williams had 16 points and 12 rebounds, including a layup with 2:46 to play that made it 114-99.

The Suns held the Hornets to 12 points in the fourth quarter and got 53 points from their bench. Phoenix made 39 of 58 two-point shots (67 percent).

“Our second unit played phenomenal,” coach Earl Watson said.

“We’ve got to play consistent like that. Moving the ball, screening away,” Suns guard Eric Bledsoe said.

Leandro Barbosa also had 16 points, and Devin Booker had 15 points, nine assists and six rebounds. The Suns are 8-4 against Eastern Conference teams at home this season.

Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 26 points.

“We never got them under control. Penetration, transition, we let them play to their strengths,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.

The Suns lost their halftime lead briefly early in the third quarter, but went on an 11-0 run that featured Chriss’ corner 3 to take an 80-70 lead with 7:15 to play.

Phoenix led by as many as 12 points in the third, but the Hornets whittled the deficit to 87-85 on Walker’s 3-pointer at the 2:53 mark.

The Suns led 94-91 entering the fourth after Marvin Williams was fouled by Booker with 0.4 seconds left and made three free throws.

Warren scored 12 points in the third quarter.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s six steals were a career high for the Hornets forward.

The Suns trailed by as many as 10 points in the first quarter but cut the Hornets’ lead to four by the time it ended. Williams had 13 points in the quarter for Charlotte.

After being behind for much of the first half, Phoenix took a 52-50 lead with Barbosa’s short bank shot with 3:22 left in the second quarter. Barbosa scored 10 points in the quarter after not playing in the first.

Walker had 18 first-half points for the Hornets, who trailed 61-58 at halftime after Phoenix made 13 of 19 shots in the second quarter.

“We just play in spurts,” Walker said. “We’re not making those effort plays that need to be made out there, which is getting back in transition.”

TIP-INS

Hornets: It took 61 games, but the Hornets finally played the Suns this season and will host them later this month. “It’s extra film work, little bit extra preparation,” Clifford said. … C Miles Plumlee missed his sixth straight game with a right calf strain.

Suns: Radio broadcaster Al McCoy will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony Friday night when the Suns host Oklahoma City. McCoy has called games for 44 seasons. … The Suns played at home for the first time since Feb. 15. The All-Star break and three road games filled the schedule since then.

KAMINSKY INJURED

Hornets center Frank Kaminsky took a blow to his upper left arm colliding with Alan Williams in the fourth quarter and was taken to the locker room. He did not return and finished with 16 points. No update was given on Kaminsky’s condition but he had a wrap over his left shoulder after the game.

TWO TAKEOFFS FOR `AIRPLANE MODE’

Derrick Jones Jr., the runner-up in the NBA dunk contest at All-Star Weekend, took flight early in the fourth quarter with a jam off an alley-oop pass from Tyler Ulis. A few minutes later, the pair connected again for another lob that Jones, nicknamed “Airplane Mode,” threw down with his left hand. It gave the Suns a 105-97 lead with 7:43 to play.

GAME CHANGER

Ulis had eight points and a career-high eight assists in 23 minutes, the rookie from Kentucky earning praise from his coach. “Tyler Ulis changed the game,” Watson said, noting his defensive pressure and hustle to tire out Charlotte’s guards.

 

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.