What: Phoenix Suns (11-19) at Golden State Warriors (8-24)
When: Monday, Dec. 23 at 8:30 p.m. MST
Where: Chase Center, San Francisco, Calif.
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
As Dave wrote earlier this week, the Suns are finally over the schedule hump and need to start banking wins to get back in the playoff picture. They basically have six weeks to find out if there are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline before making key decisions on Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Tyler Johnson.
All throughout the year, both Monty Williams and James Jones have a said you have to wait 20 or 25 games to get a good sense of a team. Then, everyone was being patient until Deandre Ayton returned. The unfortunate reality of this season is that there is no more time to wait. The Suns have lost a ton of ground in the playoff race and need to start making hard decisions about this team, with or without Ayton.
The big man has been ruled out for tonight’s game and remains day-to-day.
12th in the Western Conference
110.4 ORtg (12th) - 111.8 DRtg = minus-1.4 netRtg (18th)
Monday’s loss to Denver should not be thrown into the same pile as other recent failures. The Suns played the Nuggets close and limited their offense greatly until the fourth quarter. At that point, as with many other games lately, the opposing team’s star power took over.
The larger issue is that the Suns haven’t been able to match their opponents in crunch time when stars typically take over and create shots for their teams. Devin Booker, whether due to injury or a continued adjustment period, hasn’t been able to muster consistent star-level performances in close games this year.
A sampling during this seven-game losing streak:
7-point loss to Memphis: Booker scores 15 points on 6-17 shooting
14-point loss to Houston: Booker scores 19 points on 6-16 shooting
2-point loss to Denver: Booker scores 11 points on 3-12 shooting
The easiest guess is the bruising in his forearm is causing more discomfort than he will let on and it is affecting his game. That would come as no surprise — it is his shooting hand, after all.
And scoring isn’t the only way Booker affects games. He has been great as a distributor and has cut down on turnovers lately, but the Suns need him to create shots for himself more consistently. With Ayton out and Tyler Johnson spiraling, there isn’t anyone else who can do so on a regular basis. Kelly Oubre Jr. is good for a few per game but just as many fatal misses. It’s difficult to rely on anyone but Booker, and right now Booker is unreliable, too.
Could that change against Golden State coming off three days of rest?
Golden State Warriors
15th in the Western Conference
104.3 ORtg (30th) - 112.8 DRtg (26th) = minus-8.5 netRtg (28th)
The Warriors are coming off a jubilant victory over Houston on Christmas Day that saw them rediscover — at least for one night — their defensive prowess. They held James Harden to just one free-throw attempt and drew an ugly shooting night out of Russell Westbrook. With a cast of role players around Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell, Golden State has been bad all year, but perhaps they are on the upswing.
Golden State is sixth in defense over the past two weeks, per Cleaning the Glass. Their success is not limited to the Houston game. As they’ve gotten healthier, the Warriors have regained a solid front-court rotation, which includes Green in addition to Willie Cauley-Stein and Kevon Looney.
They will present a more difficult matchup for the Suns than the last time these teams faced off. This is because of the newfound depth on the Warriors’ part as well as an expected drop-off by Aron Baynes since the first few weeks of the year.
The key to the game will be Booker and Ricky Rubio puncturing Golden State’s defense and the Suns corralling Russell successfully.
Phoenix has actually been decent defending opposing scoring guards this year and even during the losing streak. Jamal Murray was quiet until crunch time against Denver and Damian Lillard had a poor shooting night. Maybe there is something to the idea that the Suns are better against shooters than drive-and-kick players like Russell Westbrook and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Russell surely falls in the latter category, and Baynes is good enough to not be taken advantage of by Golden State’s size. It’s incredible that I’m even dissecting this game so much. The Suns should win it easily, but nothing has come easy lately.
Suns 115, Warriors 110