As the Phoenix Suns continue riding the momentum that comes with being the hottest team in basketball -- the only remaining undefeated team in the NBA's bubble after winning their fifth straight game over the Miami Heat on Saturday night -- star point guard Devin Booker said he believes the franchise is finally heading in the right direction after years of futility and unfulfilled promise.
"I think this is just kind of a turning point for us," Booker said after scoring 35 points and dishing out six assists in the 119-112 victory. "We had stretches in the season where we played very well, but as what happens to a young team throughout the season, you have your ups and downs. I think if we stay consistent and stick with our principles -- the communication on defense, just getting more comfortable in these situations of games and meaningful games that matter for us."
Most important for the Suns, their stunning surge has pulled them to just a half-game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the ninth seed in the West and just two games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth spot with three seeding games left to play.
Suns coach Monty Williams had to chuckle when asked why his young team's focus has been so good since the season restarted at ESPN's Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, last month.
"You're really giving me a lot of credit, man," Willams said. "I don't really know. I could give you some coach-speak, but I don't know. I just think we have a group that wanted to come here and prove to the world that they were worthy of being here. They heard a lot of the stuff being said. I think when people say stuff about you, you want to prove them wrong. If I had to guess that would be it, but this is who we are.
"We've been competitive all year; we've been a scrappy team. We play teams hard, we share the ball, we try to make the right plays. We've tried to stick to our DNA and not get outside of that."
Many people around the league questioned the Suns' inclusion when the NBA announced its 22-team restart. The Suns were 26-39 when the season was suspended on March 11 and appeared too far away to even have a chance at a playoff berth. But Booker's scoring prowess coupled with a renewed cohesion and contributions up and down the roster from the young group has made the Suns the darlings of the league over the past two weeks.
For Booker, the winning has been even sweeter, given some of the criticism he's dealt with over the past few years because of all the losing. Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green said on Friday's edition of "Inside the NBA" that "it's not good for [Booker's] career" to stay in Phoenix.
"I feel like that's important for this organization, for the fans that have stuck by us for this long and still do so," Booker said when asked about Green's comments. "Since I've been in Phoenix, we haven't had the win success that we had, but the support's been there. And this is what we owe to the fans, we owe to the organization. It's been a long time for us and I think this bubble opportunity was big for us, and we're taking advantage of it."
One of the reasons the Suns pulled off the win on Saturday night was because of the dogged play of guard Jevon Carter. The West Virginia alum had 20 points -- hitting six 3-pointers -- while earning rave reviews from his teammates and coach.
"JC, he's the bulldog of the team," Williams said. "He had not shot the ball well the last few games and he remarked to one of the coaches that he was going to hit five or something like that. We didn't know, but he's a gamer."
The Suns -- who have now won five straight for the first time since December 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Information research -- head into a Monday showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder hopeful that they can continue their torrid play.
"A lot of guys grew up in these three or four months," Suns point guard Ricky Rubio said. "It seems like a second season with all of them with the same coach, and it helps to see the growth with this team. We have more room to improve ... but we have eight games, and we know we have to go 8-0."
ESPN staff writer Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.