Shorthanded Suns lose Deandre Ayton, Cameron Payne to injury, drop 5th straight loss to last-place Rockets

Chris Paul is back. But the Phoenix Suns team surrounding him is looking less and less familiar.

Starting center Deandre Ayton and guard Cameron Payne both left Tuesday's 111-97 loss to the Houston Rockets with injuries. They joined All-NBA guard Devin Booker and sharpshooting forward Cameron Johnson on a growing list of sidelined Suns.

Ayton rolled his left ankle shortly before halftime. He limped off the court and tested his ankle shortly before the break, but didn't return to the floor to start the third quarter. Payne injured his right foot and likewise didn't join his teammates on the floor after halftime. The Suns ruled both players out in the the third quarter. The extent of their injuries wasn't initially clear.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, center, watches from the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Devin Booker watched Tuesday's loss in street clothes. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Booker's been sidelined for two consecutive games with a hamstring injury. His recovery timeline isn't clear. But the Suns ruled him out for Tuesday's game on Monday, suggesting that he wasn't close to a return. He watched the game in street clothes.

Johnson had surgery on Nov. 8 to repair a damaged meniscus in his right knee. After spending most of his first three NBA seasons coming off the Suns bench, he joined the starting lineup in October and was off to a hot start averaging 13 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 43.1% from 3-point distance. He was initially projected to miss 1-2 months, and his timeline to return remains unclear.

Paul returned to the lineup on Dec. 7 after missing 14 games with a foot injury. Payne took on a larger role in his place and was doing the same with Booker sidelined prior to his injury. After a 16-7 start, the Suns have now lost five straight, including Tuesday's defeat to a now 9-18 Rockets team that's tied for last place in the West.

The attrition is certainly concerning for a team with title aspirations. If there's any solace for the Suns, it's that the injury bug is hitting in December.