Time: 5:30 pm (Phoenix time)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
Hello and welcome to the final Holidays with Deadpoolio! It’s been an honor. Taking a cue from Toys R Us, we’re going out with a bang because today is both Easter and April Fool’s Day. That’s a holiday BOGO, ladies and gentlemen. Now, as this is the final Holidays with Deadpoolio, I will do you two favors. First, I will spare you the upsetting knowledge that I plan on spending all day stuffing jelly beans into my face while wearing an oversized pink Easter Bunny costume. Second, I will maintain an air of professionalism and refrain from including any April Fool’s jokes in this game preview.
After a buzzer-beating loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday, the Phoenix Suns (19-58) wrap up this two-game road trip by facing the Golden State Warriors (55-21) in what could very well be a Western Conference Finals preview.
The Warriors are starting to get healthy after a rash of injuries facilitated a 3-7 stretch that cemented the defending champs into the No. 2 slot in the Western Conference playoff picture. Their last game, a 112-96 victory over the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento yesterday, saw the return of Klay Thompson to the starting lineup, joining the recently healed Kevin Durant and Draymond Green.
It’s tough for any team to lose its best player — its motor — but that has been the case for the Warriors without Stephen Curry. The superstar point guard hasn’t been able to catch a break, most recently having teammate JaVale McGee fall backward into his knee in the same game he was returning from an ankle injury. Curry has played in just 51 games this season — the second fewest of his career. Fortunately for the Warriors, they have a glut of talent on their perennial championship-contending roster. Kevin Durant is averaging 26.3 points per game on gaudy shooting percentages (51.9 FG%, 42.9 3PT%, 88.5 FT%). Not only that, he currently ranks fourth in the NBA for blocks per game at 1.9. Klay Thompson, one of the most underrated players in the league, averages 19.8 points as Golden State’s third banana and ranks fourth in 3-point accuracy league-wide (44.2 percent) even though he attempts seven a game. Draymond Green, as elite a role player as will ever exist, averages 11.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.4 steals. His versatility is heavily responsible for Golden State’s ability to run smaller, unconventional lineups and not pay a price for doing so, similar to what Shawn Marion did for Mike D’Antoni’s Suns teams in the 2000s. But one player deserving of special note is Quinn Cook. Playing on a two-way contract, Cook has stepped into the starting lineup in place of Curry and performed above anyone’s expectations (except maybe his own). Cook is averaging 16.3 points over his last 11 games, with 10 of those as a starter. He’s scored 20 or more points four times, including a career-high 30 points on Mar. 29 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Despite the recent struggles, this is still an extremely dangerous team. The Warriors lead the NBA in scoring (113.9), field goal percentage (50.4), 3-point percentage (39.2), free throw percentage (81.4), assists (29.5), and blocks (7.7) while ranking eighth in steals (8.0). They also hold their opponents to 44.4-percent field goal shooting (third best in the NBA) and 35.7-percent 3-point shooting (ninth best in the NBA). Their 6.8 point differential ranks third in the league.
Points: Stephen Curry (26.4)
Rebounds: Draymond Green (7.9)
Assists: Draymond Green (7.3)
The Suns are a MASH unit at the moment, with nearly half their roster — and most of their significant players — sidelined with injuries. Despite that, those who were hale and hearty nearly pulled out their most improbable win of the season on Mar. 30 before Gerald Green brought the Suns back to earth with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that gave the Rockets the 104-103 victory. Granted, it took Houston treating Phoenix like the Washington Generals for three quarters for the Suns to have that chance, but doggone it, they almost pulled it out.
In the absence of anyone else capable of leading an NBA team, Josh Jackson and Tyler Ulis have stepped up big. Jackson continues his delayed push for All-Rookie honors, averaging 21.1 points over his last nine games and showing an improved shooting stroke that hasn’t quite extended to his long-distance shooting or free throws. Still, the form on his shot looks much improved from the beginning of the season and is a testament to how hard he has worked to iron out that flaw in his game. Ulis, meanwhile, has finally tapped back into last season’s production. Chalk his season-long struggles up to a balky ankle and back if you must (I don’t), but he is averaging 16.6 points and 6.6 assists over his last five games while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3. Those numbers are a far cry from his season averages (7.3 points, 4.1 assists, 38.6 percent from the field, 28.5 percent from 3).
Predictably, the Suns have struggled on offense without Devin Booker. Over the last eight games (seven missed by Booker and the one where he tried playing through the hand injury), they are averaging 96.9 points and shooting 43 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from 3. Their recent five-game stretch of failing to reach 100 points was tied with two other streaks for the longest such stretch by the Suns over the last five seasons. Get well, Devin.
Points: Devin Booker (24.9)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (9.1)
Assists: Elfrid Payton (6.2)
Devin Booker (Suns): sprained right hand (OUT)
Tyson Chandler (Suns): neck/back soreness (OUT)
Jared Dudley (Suns): sore left ankle (QUESTIONABLE)
Brandon Knight (Suns): torn left ACL (OUT)
Alex Len (Suns): sprained left ankle (OUT)
Elfrid Payton (Suns): left knee tendinopathy (QUESTIONABLE)
T.J. Warren (Suns): left knee inflammation (OUT)
Omri Casspi (Warriors): sprained right ankle (QUESTIONABLE)
Stephen Curry (Warriors): sprained left MCL (OUT)
Andre Iguodala (Warriors): left knee soreness (QUESTIONABLE)
Patrick McCaw (Warriors): back injury (OUT)
The Suns have dropped the first two games to the Golden State Warriors, first getting pounded by 46 points on the road on Feb. 12 and then losing 124-109 on Mar. 17 in a game they led 60-52 at halftime. Phoenix was close that second game because the only All Star the Warriors had in uniform was Green, but unless head coach Steve Kerr elects to rest some guys on the second game of this back-to-back, the Suns will have to contend with Durant and Thompson as well. There is always a chance for a repeat for Phoenix of the near-miracle in Houston, but this is a Warriors team trying to lock itself in mentally for the playoffs. They already had their skid to end March and will likely be fully engaged tonight despite the caliber of opponent. The Suns will need all hands on deck tonight, but if we’re being honest, this is the Warriors’ game to lose, not the Suns’ game to win.
Troy Daniels vs. Klay Thompson
Hopefully Klay Thompson isn’t rested tonight so fans can watch two long-distance bombers go toe to toe. Thompson, one half of the Splash Brothers, is one of the top marksmen in the league. Daniels, meanwhile, is shooting 40.4 percent himself from deep, leading Phoenix in 3-point percentage. Even more, 79.8 percent of his field goal attempts have come from behind the 3-point line this season. When these guys heat up, they can put on shooting displays the likes of which mere mortals can only gape at. Yes, there’s a game to be played, but the prospect of seeing two incredible three-point shooters stage their own in-game shootout would be quite the treat for everyone.
Deadpoolio’s Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by basketball-reference.com)
I could point out that this 14-game losing streak is the longest in franchise history in a single season or that this 2-29 stretch is the worst in franchise history over a 31-game span. But instead, I think I will highlight that there are only five games left in the season — able to be counted on a single hand (lawnmower accidents notwithstanding). And that, everyone, is about as Neat-o a stat as I could give you.