Baynes hopes to stay hot as Suns visit Blazers


Aron Baynes figures to receive plenty of attention when the Phoenix Suns visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

The 33-year-old center turned in the performance of a lifetime against Portland last Friday when he established career bests of 37 points and nine 3-pointers as the Suns earned a 127-117 win in Phoenix.

Baynes, who was starting in place of center Deandre Ayton (ankle), also collected 16 rebounds in the stellar outing. Making it more stunning was that coach Monty Williams didn’t even summon him to enter the previous game against the Toronto Raptors.

“It can be funny in the NBA like that,” Baynes told reporters. “Night to night, it can be completely different. One thing we’ve done well as a team is a next-man-up mentality. If you go out there and play within Monty’s system, he usually puts you in places to succeed.”

Baynes remained hot two nights later when he followed up with 24 points and four 3-pointers on Sunday in Phoenix’s impressive 140-131 home victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Now he looks to help Phoenix defeat Portland for the third straight time after the Blazers won the previous 11 encounters.

And Portland certainly will be closely observing where he is on the court after being stunned by his Friday shooting splurge.

“You expect him to make some threes, but you don’t expect him to make that many,” Portland coach Terry Stotts told reporters.

Baynes has made 58 3-pointers this season after entering the season with just 25 makes in his first seven seasons combined. He also is averaging career bests of 11.6 points and 5.7 rebounds.

Baynes was one of four Phoenix players to top 20 points in the win over the Bucks, who were missing reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo because of a knee injury.

Shooting guard Devin Booker scored 20 of his 36 points in the first quarter as the Suns opened the contest with a 47-point stanza. Booker finished 13 of 17 from the field — including 4 of 6 from 3-point range — and also recorded eight assists.

Point guard Ricky Rubio recorded 25 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists for his seventh career triple-double, and forward Mikal Bridges scored 21 points and 10 rebounds.

“You could just tell right from the start of the game,” Booker said afterward. “The energy, the aura around the locker room and the passion everyone showed. Even when we were up a lot, we are playing the right way, and when they make a run, we are playing the right way.”

The Suns are a distant six games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But suddenly, they are just 1 1/2 games behind the Trail Blazers, who have been on the decline with eight losses in the past 11 games.

The Blazers were soundly beaten 123-111 by the Sacramento Kings on Saturday in the opener of a six-game homestand. The Kings tied a franchise record with 21 3-pointers and were comfortably ahead 77-54 at halftime while snapping a 12-game losing streak in Portland.

“I thought we played like a team that was coming home,” Trail Blazers star guard Damian Lillard said of his team’s poor effort. “It was like we were counting on being on our home floor to kind of go in our direction and they came out aggressive, in attack mode on fire, and jumped out to a big lead. We had a hard time getting back into it.”

It was a devastating setback that dropped Portland nine games below .500, and the club’s 4 1/2-game deficit behind the Grizzlies is looking pretty hefty when you consider the Kings, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs and perhaps the Suns are all in the mix.

“We didn’t play like a desperate team, a team fighting for a playoff spot,” Stotts told reporters. “It’s tough to win in this league, much less when you don’t compete as hard as you can. I thought the second half we played hard, but the deficit was too big.”

Lillard had a rare poor outing, scoring 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting, including 2-of-10 accuracy from 3-point range.

–Field Level Media