All signs are pointing upward for the Phoenix Suns, who reportedly will have star Kevin Durant back in the lineup for Wednesday's matchup against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.
Acquired from the Brooklyn Nets at last month's trade deadline, Durant played three road games before suffering a sprained left ankle during pregame warmups on March 8.
Phoenix (40-35) has gone 4-6 with Durant out of the lineup but still holds the fourth spot in the Western Conference playoff race. Suns fans have been waiting patiently for the two-time Finals MVP to make his home debut.
"I always use the term ‘checking the boxes,'" Suns coach Monty Williams said of Durant's comeback journey. "You have to get the pain and swelling out and all of that and then you progress onto the floor with shots. And I've seen him go from cardio to shooting to be able to get up and down a little bit and get himself prepared to go to the next level."
Adding Durant to the mix comes at a good time, as the Suns appear to be trending in the right direction. Phoenix won its second straight game on Monday, beating the Utah Jazz 117-103.
Devin Booker scored 24 points to lead the Suns, who outscored Utah 57-25 in bench points. Deandre Ayton returned after missing four games with a bruised hip and scored 14 points, while reserves Terrence Ross, Cameron Payne and Bismack Biyombo combined for 36.
Booker has averaged 31.7 points in the 10 games without Durant, but Phoenix has also received a boost from its bench over the past week.
"It's going to be nice," Suns guard Chris Paul said of Durant's return. "A guy who means that much to your team, you don't know what you look like until he's playing. A lot of guys have been stepping up, filling voids, but it'll be good to see what we're going to look like."
Phoenix has won two of the first three meetings this season against Minnesota (39-37), which is in a battle for the sixth spot in the Western Conference playoff race.
Minnesota extended its winning streak to four games with a 119-115 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Monday. Jaden McDaniels scored 20 points to lead the Wolves. Karl-Anthony Towns sat out the game due to injury management for his right calf strain, but he should be available against the Suns.
Naz Reid scored 18 points in the win over Sacramento, while Anthony Edwards scored 17 and Rudy Gobert had 16 points and 16 rebounds. The win moved Minnesota within 1 1/2 games of the Suns for the No. 4 seed.
"We know we have the talent and the personnel to be able to beat anybody on any given night," Gobert said. "Really out of urgency and consistency. ... We play every game like it's our last and we play every game like there's no tomorrow. That's the mindset that we need."
The Wolves' recent surge has been sparked by Reid, who is averaging 20.2 points off the bench in the last five games.
"He's such a huge shot in the arm," Minnesota coach Chris Finch said of Reid. "He's a mismatch problem a lot of the time. His energy, his activity. He makes big shots for us, can finish at the rim, gives us a rolling threat. Just everything. I'm really pleased with his defense, too."
--Field Level Media