Time: 8:30 pm (local)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
The Phoenix Suns (6-13) head back out on the road to face an angry Golden State Warriors squad that lost its last game but remains 16-3 overall.
The Warriors dropped a double-overtime game at home to the Houston Rockets 132-127 that snapped a 12-game win streak. Even with the loss, Golden State remains on pace for 69 wins this season.
Golden State relies heavily on its five best players — Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. Durant, in particular, has shouldered a significant load for his new team. Aside from leading the team in scoring at 27.7 points per game, he is also averaging career highs for rebounds (8.6), blocks (1.7), steals (1.6), field goal percentage (.559), and 3-point percentage (.423) in the third-fewest minutes of his career (35.2). Curry trails Durant for team scoring lead by a point (26.7) while Thompson has recovered from a slow start to average 20.4 points. Green, who has taken offense to insinuations that Golden State wouldn’t be as good defensively this season, has buckled down on that end, ranking 17th in the NBA in rebounds (9.0), 4th in steals (2.1), 9th in blocks (1.7), and is holding opponents to 39.9-percent shooting as he makes a play for Defensive Player of the Year. Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are the only players off the bench who have consistent roles for the team.
At 118.1 points per game, the Warriors lead the NBA in scoring by almost eight points per contest. They also possess the league’s best field goal percentage (.496) and are first in assists (31.1). Just as frightening as their offensive potency for opponents, though, is that the Warriors have looked better on defense recently. They hold their opponents to 43.3-percent shooting from the field (5th-best in NBA) and 32.8-percent from 3 (3rd-best). They also lead the league in steals (9.5), blocks (6.6), and force 15.2 turnovers per game. They do, however, allow the 4th-most second chance points at 14.8 per game.
Points: Kevin Durant (27.7)
Rebounds: Draymond Green (9.0)
Assists: Draymond Green (7.1)
The Suns salvaged a three-game homestand by beating the Atlanta Hawks 109-107 on Wednesday. They’ve been off since then, preparing for a brief two-game road trip tonight that will conclude in Utah on Tuesday.
Phoenix is still led in scoring by Devin Booker despite him ranking in the bottom half of the team for field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, and true shooting percentage. Eric Bledsoe, a close second in scoring at 18.8 points, is also averaging a career-high 5.9 rebounds per game and a team-high 5.3 assists. Tyson Chandler and Alex Len have formed one of the most formidable rebounding duos in the NBA, averaging 20.2 boards between the tandem. Brandon Knight is coming off a good game against the Hawks that saw him score 14 points in less than five minutes in the 1st quarter. P.J. Tucker has averaged 19 points with 62.5-percent shooting from behind the arc over the last two games.
The Suns have improved their porous defense somewhat from earlier in the season, although they couldn‘t have sunk much deeper without encountering the Morlocks. They now only allow 111.9 points per game, which is 28th in the NBA, but they still permit 38-percent 3-point shooting — worse than everyone but the Dallas Mavericks’ 40.4 percent. Phoenix forces 15.8 turnovers but counteracts that by committing 16.1 themselves. One of the strongest aspects to the Suns this season has been their ability to close possessions with rebounds, which at 46.1 per game is 3rd in the league. On the flip side, one of the weakest aspects to the Suns has been their assists. They rack up 17.3 assists per 100 possessions — worst in the NBA by a good amount.
Points: Devin Booker (19.1)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (11.7)
Assists: Eric Bledsoe (5.3)
T.J. Warren (Suns): mysterious head injury (OUT)
The Golden State Warriors have taken both meetings between the two teams this season, a 106-100 win in Phoenix on Oct. 30 and a 133-120 win in Oakland on Nov. 13 that wasn’t quite as one-sided as the final score suggests.
Durant is averaging 33 points over the first two games against Phoenix, and Curry is averaging 29. While bottling those two guys up may be next to impossible, Phoenix needs to make them work for their offense. Those two have been far too efficient in the previous meetings. At the same time, the Suns cannot become so concerned about those two gifted scorers that they allow their team defense to break down. The worst-case scenario is allowing those two guys to start the fire, then watch them spread it to wide open teammates. Phoenix will have its hands full against an angry Warriors squad playing at home; they are going to need to be sharp on both ends if they hope to pull out an unlikely win. If they can get Curry into foul trouble or get Green a couple technical fouls, that would help.
Steve Kerr vs. Earl Watson
The Warriors love to play small, and now have Durant in place of Harrison Barnes in their “death ball” lineup. That is a big reason why seven of their 16 wins have come by 20 or more points. The Warriors count on forcing teams to play small with them because it plays into their hands. Watson needs to find a way to exploit his own team’s size on the inside, where the Warriors are most vulnerable. If he decides to run out a lineup of Bledsoe, Knight, Booker, Tucker, and Jared Dudley, the Suns are in a world of trouble. Playing small was one thing when Warren was healthy; it’s unsustainable against the Warriors now.
Deadpoolio’s Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by basketball-reference.com)
Alex Len has blocked two or more shots in seven consecutive games. While it is the longest streak of his career, a number of Suns have done that in recent history. However, if he collects at least two blocks tonight, he will join Amar’e Stoudemire (9 games from Jan. 20, 2008 to Feb. 6, 2008) and Oliver Miller (11 games from Dec. 30, 1993 to Jan. 20, 1994) as the only Suns to have had multiple blocks in eight or more consecutive games dating back to the 1993-94 season.