Phoenix Suns at Golden State Warriors
Wednesday was a national wake-up call of sorts, as ESPN LA jumped on the opportunity to spend some quality time with the lovable Dubbies. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut joined the set of Sportscenter for an extended segment on their day off in Hollywood, and as you recall, didn't suffer from swollen heads in Tuesday night's 110-106 victory over the Clippers.
Well, perhaps Draymond Green is still feeling aftereffects. Though his defensive player of the year candidacy is gaining steam (Blake Griffin's 40-point night against David Lee and Mo' Buckets certainly didn't hurt his growing reputation), Draymond Green may be forced to miss a third straight game with shin splints. He is officially listed as questionable as of Thursday morning.
But for a Warriors team riding a league-high 10-game win streak, missing Green might not be a problem. The Suns have lost four straight games leading into tonight's tilt, including three-in-a-row at home. Some of that has to do with the fact that Phoenix has contended with a couple of big injuries lately - first to point guard Brandon Knight (listed doubtful with a heel-ankle injury), and then to center Alex Len (who is out with a broken nose). This is a big blow for the Suns, as they will be without their starting point guard and their only true center.
An even bigger part of the Phoenix swoon might owe to the fact that the young, talented squad has realized that it is on the verge of playoff elimination with little left to play for. At 38-37, the Suns are four back of the Thunder in the loss column for the final playoff spot, with seven games remaining. Even worse, five of those games are on the road against winning teams. The Suns' remaining opponents boast a combined .705 winning percentage, by far the hardest remaining strength of schedule in the NBA.
While the tea leaves are skeptical of their chances (Phoenix is a 12.5 point underdog), the Suns still do boast some legitimate firepower, giving them a puncher's chance to keep things interesting. Although Isaiah "Warriors-Killer" Thomas is gone, twins Markieff and Marcus Morris play well as swing forwards. And uber-slasher Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green give the Suns an aggressive pair of wings to watch from deep or while cutting to the rim.
Regardless, the Suns are undeniably a worse team since making their midseason trades. They are not playing for the present, but for the future. They're just 10-18 since starting 28-19, as their field goal percentage, scoring, and assists have each dropped for the third straight month. Further, three-point field goal percentage fell to catastrophic levels, as the team is shooting an abysmal 27.6% for the month of March on 21.5 attempts per game (compare that to the Warriors, who shot 39.7% for the month).
An accuracy rate best described as ‘tragic' probably won't get it done against the Warriors. If the Suns can't space the Warriors defense, they can't take advantage of Draymond Green's absence. The rangy forward has been one of the few power forwards in the game who can extend man defense to the three point line, as well as close out on weak side wing and corner shooters in rotation. Instead, the Warriors will likely turn to David Lee to make his second straight start. He looks to build on Tuesday's strong 17-point, 7-rebound performance.
Notes from around the Association
James Harden posted an MVP-vote-worthy 51-point performance Wednesday night, as the Rockets squeaked by the Sacramento Kings 115-111, in Houston. While Harden was indeed fantastic, hitting the half-century mark on 16-of-25 shooting, Stephen Curry fans may fairly ask why the Bearded One's Rockets still struggle to put away teams like the 26-48 Kings at home. Nevertheless, an efficient superstar performance from Harden has helped him stay even with Curry in the court of public opinion.
Russell Westbrook and the Thunder lost again, this time to the Dallas Mavericks. Despite another triple double, the Thunder failed to stop anyone on defense. Three Thunder players hit 30-points, but OKC's problem remains twofold: Westbrook is chucking his way there night-after-night, this time taking 31 shots to reach 32 points, with 6 more turnovers. Also, the team cannot defend anyone, at all. Westbrook has not been an effective defender all season (at least not when he's using so much energy on one end of the floor), and in trading Serge Ibaka for Enes Kanter, the Thunder have completed one of the worst positional defensive downgrades imaginable. Kanter is an unmitigated disaster on defense, and the lineup hemorrhages points with him on the court.
In lighter news, Steve Kerr won his second Coach of the Month award for March, becoming the second Warriors coach to do so twice. Steve Kerr did it in a three-month span (January and March), Hall of Fame player/coach Don "Nellie" Nelson required 18 years and two stints with the team to do it (per 95.7 the game). We love you, Nellie!