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Moore: For the Phoenix Suns, it’s different this year. The players are embracing it – The Arizona Republic

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It’s different this time.

The Phoenix Suns aren’t sneaking up on anybody. They’re not proving anybody wrong. And they aren’t convincing anybody — not even themselves. The calm confidence resonates from one end of the roster to the other. Everybody feels it.

“Last year was more carefree, you know?” Dario Saric said. “We come to the playoffs. We’re gonna play the Lakers. We’re gonna see how it’s gonna go.

“And now we’re in the role of, let’s say, kind of favorites. We had the best record this season, and now everybody is expecting us to go back to the finals.”  

Behind the scenes: How the Phoenix Suns get fired up during pregame ritual

‘Much more motivated’

Saric, a big man who has been sidelined since tearing his ACL in last season’s championship round, has the perfect perspective. No observer has been closer to both the 2021 squad that finished in second place and the current squad that hopes to finish 2022 as champions.

He’s been half recovering player, half reassuring coach, and he’s all in on the Suns ahead of this playoff run.

Saric likes the depth and experience of this current group. 

“Longer bench,” Saric said. “Guys who already know the program, know the plays, know how to play for Coach Monty (Williams).”

Related: Suns’ bench staying ready as playoffs begin

Jae Crowder, the wing defender, also conveys a sense of calm confidence.

“I can definitely say our focus level is where it needs to be,” Crowder said.

Crowder knows what it should look like. In a nine-year NBA career, Crowder has been to the conference finals three times and the NBA Finals twice, including with the Suns in 2021.  

“We’re much more motivated this year,” he said. “Obviously, (last year) we made it to the finish line, but we didn’t complete our goals. The goal has never changed. We made it there, but we didn’t leave with anything to show for it.”

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That’s what’s driving this group. That’s a huge bit of why it’s different this year.  

“The rollover is the motivation,” Crowder said.

“We’re chasing something. We have much more purpose this year than we did last year. We know exactly what’s at stake. We know what we’re trying to get to, and what we’re trying to accomplish. The focus is the main goal: the end goal.

“We’ve been talking about that since training camp. The end goal is to win the championship. But there’s a lot of things to do up until that point. We still have games to play. We have a series to take care of, starting Sunday. The focus is there. The motivation is there.”

Read more: Do Suns have what’s needed to win an NBA title? Let’s take a look

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‘That experience, it’ll help’

Devin Booker always seems to keep the same energy: He’s cool enough to build a house of cards with two decks on a moving team bus.

He’s saying the same things as Saric and Crowder.

“We’re just all focused, man,” Booker said. “We have a really good group in that regard, in understanding what’s at hand, in understanding how monstrous this whole thing can be for us. We want it to be like that.

“We just have to take it a day at a time and build it brick by brick. We had a thing last year where we focus one game at a time … Having that experience, it’ll help.”

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Still, there’s pressure that comes with being the favorite, but it’s nothing new, at least according to Booker.

“We’ve been feeling that since we lost,” Booker said. “I don’t think that’s a weight that anybody else is putting on us. It’s the pressure that we put on ourselves. It’s the standard that we hold ourselves to — a championship mentality.

“We preach and talk that daily. Now it’s time to show it.”

That starts Sunday.

And it goes from one end of the roster to the other. Everybody feels it.

It’s different this time.

Reach Moore at gmoore@azcentral.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @SayingMoore.

There’s plenty Moore where this came from. Subscribe for videos, columns, opinions and analysis from The Arizona Republic’s award-winning sports team. 

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