Adjusting to life without Chris Paul is still a work in progress for the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns enter Sunday’s home game against the Utah Jazz trying to avoid their first two-game losing streak since late December.
On Friday, Phoenix lost its second game without Paul in the roster, falling to the New Orleans Pelicans 117-102. The Suns had surged before their All-Star point guard fractured his thumb on Feb. 16 against Houston.
Phoenix, which boasts the NBA’s best record at 49-11, had won eight straight games and 19 of 20 contests before falling to the Pelicans. New Orleans took advantage of Paul’s absence and took a 95-81 lead after three quarters.
Devin Booker took over point guard duties while Paul heals. Booker did well in his adjusted role in a 124-104 victory over Oklahoma City on Thursday, recording 25 points and 12 assists against the Thunder. Booker had 30 points against New Orleans on Friday, but he had just five assists.
It wasn’t enough to defeat CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram, who combined for 60 points against the Suns defense.
“We just have to find ways,” Booker said. “Every match is going to be a new learning experience for us. It will take a collective group, a whole unit.”
Winning seven of its last eight games, Utah is starting to look like the team many expected to be a top contender in the Western Conference.
The Jazz outlasted Dallas for a 114-109 win on Friday, when Donovan Mitchell led the way with 33 points, making a career-high seven 3-pointers. Rudy Gobert had 14 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks to help Utah complete its comeback.
“When you cut it down, we did what we were supposed to do,” Mitchell said.
Utah went through its own struggles before the NBA All-Star break when Mitchell and Gobert each missed several games due to injuries. With their two healthy All-Stars, the Jazz are once again playing at a high level. Mitchell gives the team a boost with his effective attack and Gobert backs his opponents with a solid defense.
The three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year made a statement Friday, effectively keeping Mavericks star Luka Doncic on the switches. Despite scoring 23 points, Doncic only made 8 of 24 shots from the field and missed three attempts in the final two minutes as Gobert stifled him.
“Gobert is such a good defender,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “When he’s changing, he’s as good as anyone in front of the guards.”
Utah and Phoenix met twice last month, with the Suns winning both games: a 115-109 win at Arizona on Jan. 24 and a 105-97 win at Salt Lake City two days later.
Booker averaged 38.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in the two wins and his effective shooting kept the Utah defense on its heels for four quarters.