Phoenix Suns: Strengths, weaknesses, and the players Timberwolves fans should look out for

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Here come the Phoenix Suns. For better or worse.

The Timberwolves had a shot at the top seed in the Western Conference when they stepped on the court Sunday in Minneapolis. But they fizzled against Phoenix, dropped to the No. 3 seed, and now must face the Suns in a tough first-round playoff matchup.

This will mark the first-ever playoff series between the Suns and Timberwolves.

The regular-season series suggests potential pitfalls for the Wolves. Phoenix won all three regular-season games including a 133-115 victory on Nov. 15, a 97-87 win on April 5, and a 125-106 shellacking on Sunday. The story was not much happier last season when Minnesota went 1-3 against Phoenix.

Anthony Edwards offered a message to Timberwolves fans who are feeling anxious. That was then. This is now.

“They won three games in the regular season,” Edwards told the Star Tribune. “Regular season (is) over with now. We’ve got the postseason, so we’ll be ready to go.”

Related: NBA Legend Jerry West Gushes Over Timberwolves – Loves Them in Playoffs

Strengths and weaknesses

The Suns have a trio of stars in Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal, and any one of those three is capable of carrying Phoenix in any particular game. Beal took on the lead role Sunday as he poured in 36 points on 14-for-21 shooting and made all six of his attempts from 3-point range.

Ultimately, Durant provides the toughest matchup. He is one of the best players on the planet, and he will force the Timberwolves to execute on defense.

“They play ‘KD’ at the 4,” Edwards said. “So, you know, (that) puts us in a lot of rotations. But we’ll be ready for it.”

Booker is skilled at the point as an elite scorer and an improved passer, and he will challenge Timberwolves veteran Mike Conley. Beal has been riddled with injuries in recent seasons, but he remains a threat to go off in any given game, as he did Sunday.

With all of that said, Phoenix is far from unbeatable. Remember, this is the same team that started the season with aspirations of being the top team in the Western Conference and ended up needing to scramble to avoid the NBA play-in tournament.

The Suns are top-heavy and lack the Timberwolves’ depth. Phoenix also is much less potent when it comes to big men, as Minnesota’s trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, and Naz Reid figures to test the Suns’ frontcourt.

Karl-Anthony Towns
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Players to watch

Beyond the Suns’ top three, Grayson Allen is a player who can get hot and put pressure on the Timberwolves’ perimeter defense. Allen scored 14 points in the first matchup between the teams. He made 5 of 9 shots overall and 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.

In the second game between the teams, Allen led the team with 23 points on 6-for-14 shooting, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. He followed up with 20 points on Sunday while making 8 of 11 shots from the field and all three of his shots from beyond the arc.

Royce O’Neale could be another wild card to watch. The veteran bench player averaged 8.4 points in his final 15 games of the regular season, and he has appeared in 44 playoff games during his career with the Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets.

Ultimately, the way the Suns guard (or fail to guard) Edwards very well could be a difference-maker in the series. Beal and others will have their hands full trying to slow down the Timberwolves’ young star.

Edwards broke out during the playoffs last season. He averaged 31.6 points per game in five playoff contests against the Nuggets despite their efforts to contain him, and he is oozing with confidence as the Suns return to town to start the playoffs.

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