Western Notes: Ayton, Warriors, Suns, Bridges, Murray

Suns star Chris Paul praised third-year center Deandre Ayton for changing his game and adapting to a new role with the team, Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic tweets.

Despite a decrease in his overall numbers, Ayton has improved his activity on both ends of the court, serving as a valuable screen-setter and rebounder for the top-ranked team in the league.

Paul, a 16-year veteran, mentioned that every player on Phoenix has grown this season, though none quite like Ayton. The former first overall pick has served as a key cog in the team’s success and has accepted the idea of starring in his complementary role, averaging 14.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.

There’s more out of the Western Conference tonight:

  • The Warriors‘ loss to the Timberwolves on Thursday was their most consequential defeat of the season, Anthony Slater of The Athletic writes, noting that the result negatively impacted both the Dubs’ playoff position and the Wolves’ lottery position. Golden State lost the contest 126-114 (and was out-rebounded by 23), though the team bounced back on Saturday to defeat Houston 113-87.
  • The Suns could be facing a sizable money crunch soon, Zach Lowe of ESPN notes. Star guard Devin Booker is under a maximum-salary contract, veteran Chris Paul owns a $44.2MM player option for next season and both Ayton and Mikal Bridges will be eligible for extensions this summer. Rival executives believe Bridges’s next contract may approach $20MM per season, Lowe reports.
  • Nuggets guard Jamal Murray reunited with his team and offered an inspiring message on Saturday, Mike Singer of the Denver Post writes. Murray suffered a torn ACL last month and re-emphasized that the team still has one major goal: win the championship. “You just felt the energy lift when he walked in,” teammate PJ Dozier said. “We cheered for him. Just good to have our brother back. Good to see him, see him doing well at that. We just wanted to make sure his spirits were high.”
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