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Phoenix Suns watch scoreboard, turn focus to Oklahoma City

Mikal Bridges is doing more than scoreboard watching in the Orlando Bubble.

He’s been cheering.

“I was talking to friends today, funny way, I’m a big Sixers fan today,” the Philadelphia native said. “Rooting for them today. Kind of weird for me to say, but it looks like I’m rooting for them.”

Bridges’ hometown 76ers didn’t come through for him and the Phoenix Suns, though.

Portland outlasted Philadelphia, 124-121, Sunday to stay in that coveted ninth place in the Western Conference and moved a full game ahead of the Suns.

Toronto beating Memphis, 108-99, helps Phoenix, which trail the eighth-place Grizzlies by 1-1/2 games, but San Antonio pushing past New Orleans,122-113, puts the Spurs a half game ahead of the Suns as they have a slightly better winning percentage.

New Orleans and Sacramento have been eliminated from playoff contention.

As intriguing and important as those games are, the Suns (31-39) remain focused on doing their part to stay in playoff contention as they look to stay unbeaten in the bubble Monday against Oklahoma City (43-26), which beat Washington,121-103, Sunday.

The 11:30 a.m. game will played at The Field House on ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex with Phoenix being the “home” team on the neutral floor.

Jul 31, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA;  Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams talks with forward Cameron Johnson (23) and forward Mikal Bridges (25) against the Washington Wizards in the second half of a NBA basketball game in the Visa Athletic Center at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

“Everybody’s watching, but that can’t be the focus,” Suns coach Monty Williams said after a film session and ‘really, really light’ practice Sunday.

“Right now, we have to prepare for a really good Oklahoma City team. We can only control how we prepare and how we work and execute. That’s the deal. We’re trying to put ourselves in a position to reach that ultimate goal, but we can’t do that unless we take care of where we are right now.” 

The Wizards are 0-6 in the bubble with their first loss coming against Phoenix that started this five-game winning streak, its longest since the 2014-15 season.

The Suns have had the mindset they have to go 8-0 to make the playoffs. They’re three wins away from achieving the first part of that equation.

“We said coming into this that we’re fine with being an under-the-radar team,” Suns All-Star Devin Booker said. “That we were going to come in here and work hard and try to get wins. So far, so good. We’ve had the right approach.” 

Aug 4, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, USA; Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles downcourt during the game against the LA Clippers at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 04, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

The Suns have to play their final three games in four days as they face Philadelphia on Tuesday before closing out their seeding schedule Thursday against Dallas.

They’re young, hungry and energized, but even Williams knows his players have to take care of themselves on multiple levels to play at a maximum level.

“We’ve got to be smart with our legs,” Williams said. “I’ve talked to the guys this whole trip about preparation. Hydration. Sleep. Food. Getting off your feet. We’ve got to adhere to that, but we’ve got to keep the same focus.” 

A play-in tournament is guaranteed in the West as Game 1 will be Aug. 15 at 11:30 a.m..

If the ninth-place team wins, it will force a decisive Game 2 at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 16 with the winner earning the eighth and final playoff seed.

Both games will be played at The Field House.

Aug 8, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Phoenix Suns' Cameron Johnson (23) looks to pass as Miami Heat's Kelly Olynyk, right, defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game at Visa Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

If the ninth place team loses Game 1, the eighth place team will get the final playoff spot.

Whoever winds up with the eighth seed will play the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs that starts Aug. 17.

The Suns are looking to earn that matchup and return to the postseason for the first time since 2010.

They need to keep winning and need others to lose, too.  

“We’ve really been trying to take care of things on our end,” Suns rookie Cam Johnson said. “Coming in, we needed a little bit of help. So right now, we are fans of some other teams, as weird as it may be.”  

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at [email protected] or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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