Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams isn’t concerned about Kevin Durant’s readiness for the upcoming postseason. Williams knows it’s only a matter of time before the 13-time All-Star returns to form.
Durant will try to take another step forward on Friday when Phoenix faces the visiting Denver Nuggets, who lead the Western Conference and remain on track to be the top seed in the conference for the first time in franchise history.
Durant had an uncharacteristically poor shooting night on Wednesday, when he made his much-anticipated home debut in a 107-100 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Back after missing 10 games due to a sprained left ankle, Durant logged 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes while shooting 5-for-18 from the floor.
“You look at the shooting numbers, you’re like, ‘That’s not Kevin,’” Williams said. “That’s his fourth time playing in who knows how long. I thought he battled on both ends. I think his cardio’s got to get back to the level where he wants it. Once he gets that, we’ll see the Kevin that we all know.”
Devin Booker scored a team-high 29 points against Minnesota and Chris Paul added 19 for Phoenix (41-35), which won its third straight and sits a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers in the battle for fourth place in the Western Conference.
The Suns believe they are well-positioned to make a championship run with Durant, who was acquired from the Brooklyn Nets at last month’s trade deadline.
“It’s confidence for everybody,” Booker said of having Durant in the lineup. “The respect for what he’s done for this game and what he’s done for I know me personally is there, and you just want to perform. He’s one of the best to ever do it.”
The Suns are seeking their first win over the Nuggets this season after dropping the prior two meetings, both in Denver, 128-125 in overtime on Christmas Day and 126-97 on Jan. 11.
The Nuggets (51-25) had their four-game winning streak snapped in a 107-88 loss to the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday. Denver center Nikola Jokic missed the contest due to right calf tightness.
Jokic is averaging 24.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 9.9 assists, and Denver’s lackluster showing against the Pelicans may have actually strengthened his MVP case.
Denver shot just 4 of 28 (14.3 percent) from 3-point range in the Thursday loss. Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Jokic’s absence clearly played a role in the team’s struggles.
“I think the simple answer is, when you’re playing with the MVP, things are a lot easier,” Malone said.
Jokic has missed nine games this season, and Malone said there’s a chance he could be absent again for Friday’s matchup.
“Obviously, being ultra cautious with where we’re at in the season,” Malone said. “If there’s any doubt, we’re going to definitely err on the side of caution.”
Jamal Murray scored 21 points against the Pelicans to lead the Nuggets, who hold a three-game lead over the second-place Memphis Grizzlies with six games left.
Murray, who played 36 minutes in the loss, could be rested in the second game of a back-to-back set as a precautionary measure.
One bright spot against the Timberwolves was the play of Bruce Brown, who scored 19 points off the bench. The fifth-year pro has scored in double figures in six of his past eight games.
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