A Week In

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Suns Remain Dominant, Mitchell Too Much in Conference Semifinals

Since eliminating LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Phoenix Suns have refused to take the foot off the gas.

As Chris Paul continues to work back to full health from an ailing shoulder injury, Phoenix has taken full control of their second round series against MVP Nikola Jokic and his Denver Nuggets.

Up 3-0, the Suns have been tough to stop as they have outscored the Nuggets by a combined 56 points through three games. Behind the superstar play of Devin Booker and Paul himself, the Suns appear poised to move on to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2010. And despite the greatness of Jokic, the Suns have been getting incredible two way performances from DeAndre Ayton to counter the Nuggets MVP.

“Deandre has been playing his (expletive) off the whole playoffs … We’re proud of him and his growth,” Booker said. “We tell him, ‘Just make it hard. Just make it hard on him. He’s gonna hit some tough shots, that’s what he does. Just consistently wear him down throughout the game.

“He’s so locked into that and I know he has a lot of respect for Jokic and I love when he respects somebody and goes at ’em that much more. That’s the mindset you need to have … Deandre is just taking on the challenge and I’m proud of him.”

The Suns may very well be the team to beat in the Western Conference with their combination of excellent two-way play, depth, and shooting. According to Paul, a lot of the credit goes to the coaching and the team’s attention to detail.

“We so prepared man, going into every game,” Paul said following the Suns Game 3 victory. “And I think the dopest part about it is to see the progression of it. To see the attention to detail early in the season, the regular season, halfway through the season and it’s fun playing the way we play.”

Elsewhere in the Western Conference playoffs, Donovan Mitchell has had Stephen A. Smith raving.

In the absence of Mike Conley – who is expected to miss Game 3 on Saturday night – Mitchell has placed the Jazz on his shoulders and has thoroughly outplayed both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in both games this best-of-seven second round series. The Jazz will look to push the Clippers to the brink of elimination and Utah will count on Mitchell to push them one step closer to the Conference Finals.

“I don’t want to hear about Karl Malone, I don’t want to hear about John Stockton,” Stephen A. Smith said following Utah’s Game 2 victory. “That’s the best player in the history of the Jazz organization right there. Donovan Mitchell is D-Wade 2.0. Donovan Mitchell is a closer, Donovan Mitchell is a superstar. Donovan Mitchell is outplaying both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Not one or the other, both of them.”

Take Smith’s statements however you like, but there is no disputing that Mitchell has been incredible in these playoffs. His strong has been matched by his teammates, most notably Rudy Gobert, who has been an absolute force in the pick-n-roll and on the defensive end.

The Suns and Jazz – both ranked in the top-10 in both offence and defense – appear to be on a crash course to the Conference Finals.

Over in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers took over the lead in their series with the Atlanta Hawks, as Joel Embiid’s return from a meniscus injury has helped the Sixers take back control of their matchup after dropping a lop-sided Game 1. While Trae Young has been tough to slow down this postseason, the Sixers depth and versatility has created problems for the young Hawks as they look toward a potentially must-win Game 4 on their home floor.

“I’ve come a long way,” Embiid said. “But, I feel like this year the game just slowed down for me. The way I see the floor is completely different than previous years … I just try to make the best play possible. Even if I got to get a shot up myself, there’s so many ways I can do it.”

Although Embiid is back in the fold, he continues to get around-the-clock treatment on his meniscus.

“Playing with a torn meniscus is not easy,” Embiid said. “Pain is going to be there. You just got to manage it. Tonight, rolling on my ankle, and falling on my back, it’s tough. But, it’s the playoffs, I can’t complain. I’m here to play. I’ve said in the past, whatever I can do, I’m gonna give it the best I got. Even if I’m playing injured, I still got to do my job. That’s why they pay me, and I want to win the championship.”

Rounding out the Conference Semifinals is the matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets.

Despite the absence of James Harden, the Nets took the first two games of the series, before the Bucks grabbed one back in a very sloppy Game 3 with a score reminiscent of NBA games played nearly two decades ago. The Nets will look to push the Bucks to the brink of elimination on Sunday as Harden’s injury is said to be “progressing”.

The Nets remain the favourites to win the NBA championship, but as we etch closer to the final four, the Nets will surely be in for their fair share of challenges.

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