NBA

Usurping Utah in the West would be great, but Suns say 'it's just not our focus'

By Sports Desk April 08, 2021

The Phoenix Suns defeated the Utah Jazz on Wednesday to close the gap at the top of the Western Conference, but coach Monty Williams insisted first place was not on his mind.

Williams has led a remarkable turnaround this season, with the Suns having a 34-39 record last year that was boosted significantly by an eight-game winning run in the seeding games in the 'bubble'.

However, Phoenix is 36-14 in the 2020-21 campaign and, following a 117-113 overtime defeat of the Jazz, they are breathing down Utah's necks.

"We just don't focus on any of that stuff," Williams said.

"I hear it, and I hope we do, but our goal has always been to win every game, improve every month - I've said that since I've been here. This team has to go through these types of experiences to win big.

"Being number one in the West would be a huge accomplishment for us, but it's just not our focus.

"We just want to win every game we can. If it means we're number one in the West, then great."

The Suns have not played in the postseason since 2009-10, but this game served as playoff preparation.

"We've always said we want to approach every game the same way - that way we don't have to change when we get where we want to go - but the intensity, the physicality, the officiating certainly felt like a playoff game," Williams said. "And going into overtime, it felt just like that."

Chris Paul added: "We needed a game like that, where guys had to play heavy minutes, the intensity of it, the crowd was great, just that energy. We haven't played too many games like that."

Veteran Paul played 43 minutes and contributed 29 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter and five in overtime.

He now ranks fifth in the league for clutch points (115), and Williams said: "Down the stretch, you might not find anybody better than Chris Paul."

The coach also praised the Suns' work in disrupting Utah's shooting from three-point range, where they were 11-for-44, down on a season average of 39.2 per cent.

And Deandre Ayton was singled out after finishing with 12 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end.

The Jazz, led by Defensive Player of the Year favourite Rudy Gobert, allowed a season-high 61 rebounds, while only three times have opponents managed more than 16 offensive boards against them.

"We put [Ayton] in a lot of tough positions. Not many guys his size have to do as much as he does," Williams said. "The only other guy, maybe, is Gobert, and he's Defensive Player of the Year.

"We put DA in coverages where he's got to rim-protect but we also switch out with him at times where he's got to guard smaller guys. When they make shots, it's usually a tough shot."

It was the first time in Ayton's career he reached double figures for rebounds against Gobert and the Jazz.

"Everybody's got a job on this team, man," Ayton said, adding: "Competing with Gobert, that's the Defensive Player of our league.

"Him being a presence on both ends of the floor, you're going to have to bring your 'A-game'. He's a strong, physical dude, he knows the game, and I learned a lot, too."

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    But Baddoo's story is one of perseverance. Let's rewind back to May 2019. He was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery.

    If sitting out the 2019 campaign was not bad enough, he missed last season when the minor leagues were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    During the winter's Rule five draft in December, Baddoo was taken by the Tigers, having initially been drafted out of high school by the Minnesota Twins in 2016.

    The Rule 5 draft aims at preventing franchises from stockpiling too many young players on their minor league affiliate teams when other clubs would be prepared to play them in the major leagues. If chosen, a player must be kept on the selecting team's major league active roster for the entire season.

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    Baddoo had 233 career minor leagues games to his name, but none above Class A as he earned a place on the Opening Day roster after hitting .325 in Spring Training with five home runs. However, the Maryland native looked like a man for the big stage.

    In his opening at-bat on April 4, Baddoo homered in a memorable maiden outing for the Tigers, driving to left field in the bottom of the third inning against the Cleveland Indians.

    "I'm just living in the moment," Baddoo said post-game after becoming the ninth player in Tigers franchise history to hit a home run in his first major league at-bat and only the second to do so on the first pitch, following George Vico in 1948. "I got a good pitch to hit, and I was able to hit it in front of my family and everyone."

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    Baddoo has continually showed maturity beyond his years as the rookie adds to his growing legend. Taking over Motor City, he then delivered a walk-off shot to sink his old team the Twins 24 hours later.

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    Baddoo was rated as Detroit's fifth outfielder before the start of the season, so how does he compare to his team-mates?

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    As for the team who left their prospect unprotected, Minnesota's outfielders have tallied a .263 AVG, .331 OBS and .474 SLG so far this season – numbers surpassed by Baddoo.

    Baddoo is flying the flag for Rule 5 picks – Roberto Clemente is the only player out of that unheralded draft to earn Hall of Fame honours.

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    Rodon has game to remember

    Carlos Rodon threw a no-hitter for the Chicago White Sox, just missing out on a rare perfect game in an 8-0 rout of the Cleveland Indians. Rodon retired the first 25 batters he faced, leaving him two outs away from what would have been the 24th perfect game in MLB history. But Rodon lost out on joining that exclusive group when a two-strike pitch hit Roberto Perez in the foot. Rodon, though, still managed to secure the 20th no-hitter in White Sox history and the second in MLB this season. According to Stats Perform, Rodon (two wins and two hits allowed) is the first pitcher in AL history to win his first two starts of a season while allowing no more than two hits.

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    Washington Nationals 6-0 St Louis Cardinals
    Milwaukee Brewers 7-0 Chicago Cubs
    Kansas City Royals 6-1 Los Angeles Angels
    Boston Red Sox 3-2 Minnesota Twins
    Boston Red Sox 7-1 Minnesota Twins
    San Francisco Giants 3-0 Cincinnati Reds
    Pittsburgh Pirates 5-1 San Diego Padres
    Detroit Tigers 6-4 Houston Astros
    New York Mets 5-1 Philadelphia Phillies
    Texas Rangers 5-1 Tampa Bay Rays
    Miami Marlins 6-5 Atlanta Braves
    Chicago White Sox 8-0 Cleveland Indians
    Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 Colorado Rockies
    Seattle Mariners-Baltimore Orioles (postponed)

     

    Blue Jays at Royals

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