Deandre Ayton lost 10 pounds during a non-COVID illness that caused him to miss two games, and then he received an unprecedented regular-season workload upon his return Tuesday.
The Suns big man, who enjoyed a solid all-around game against the Portland Trail Blazers, aims to put together another strong outing when Phoenix hosts the Washington Wizards on Thursday.
Ayton played 45 minutes in the Suns’ 111-107 overtime road win over the Trail Blazers. He recorded a season-best 28 points and collected 13 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the campaign.
However, the number of minutes really stood out considering the 23-year-old was playing for the first time since Dec. 6. The only time he played 45 minutes previously during his four NBA seasons was when the Suns were eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of last season’s NBA Finals.
“That’s what 45 minutes feels like,” Ayton said after making 12 of 17 shots. “But us just executing down the stretch and just trusting one another and playing together the whole night was beautiful to see.”
Phoenix forced overtime on a late shot by Chris Paul after Portland left the door open with two free-throw misses down the stretch. The victory was the Suns’ 21st in the past 23 games.
“That’s a big-time win for us,” Paul said. “We’ve got a lot of guys down. Deandre Ayton being back in the lineup was huge for us.”
The victory also came with star guard Devin Booker sidelined due to a hamstring injury. Booker, who averages a team-best 23.4 points, will sit out his seventh straight game Thursday.
Washington has dropped three straight games and six of seven as it arrives in Phoenix for the third contest of a six-game road excursion.
The Wizards lost 119-105 to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.
“We’re being tested. Thus far we haven’t responded accordingly,” Washington first-year coach Wes Unseld Jr. said afterward. “We have to find a way to dig down individually and collectively and find the best version of ourselves.”
It certainly wasn’t a good look against the Kings as the Wizards were outscored 35-16 in the fourth quarter.
Sacramento also scored the final seven points of the third quarter as it outscored Washington by 26 over the final 13-plus minutes.
“They could smell the blood in the water,” Unseld said. “They picked it up and they pressured us.”
Wizards star Bradley Beal scored 30 points on 13-of-24 shooting. It was his fifth 30-point effort of the season.
However, two Washington starters combined for 10 points.
Forward Kyle Kuzma scored six points on 3-of-10 shooting after missing the previous two contests while being in COVID-19 protocol.
Guard Spencer Dinwiddie had just four points on 2-of-8 shooting. He has scored in single digits in two straight games and five of the past seven.
Dinwiddie hasn’t meshed well with Beal, and he told the Washington Post earlier Wednesday that he needs to get more shots.
“The volume’s not there,” Dinwiddie said. “The thing that is, I guess, confusing at times is I shoot eight times, seven times, whatever. It’s like, ‘Ah man, you didn’t score 20.’ I don’t know many people that do that.”
Washington has won nine of its past 12 meetings with Phoenix. The two clubs split a pair last season with the Wizards posting a 128-107 home win on Jan. 11 and Phoenix answering with a 134-106 home victory on April 10.
–Field Level Media