Inside the Scope: Phoenix Suns (16-31) at Golden State Warriors (29-17)
- Tip-Off: 7:30 (PT)
- Television: CSN-BA
Phoenix Suns Team Profile
- Offensive Efficiency: 99.6 (tied 24th)
- Defensive Efficiency: 104.5 (23rd)
- Points: Goran Dragic, 14.2 PPG
- Rebounds: Marcin Gortat, 8.9 RPG
- Assists: Goran Dragic, 6.4 APG
- Steals: Goran Dragic, 1.4 SPG
- Blocks: Marcin Gortat, 1.8 BPG
- Shooting Percentage: Marcin Gortat, 52.8% FG
- Three-Point Shooting Percentage: Jared Dudley, 39.8% 3PT
Scope the Opposition
The Warriors opened 2012-2013 by beating these very Phoenix Suns 87-85 on the road. Given that outcome, too, some assumed these teams were on a similar trajectory to middling but ultimately non-threatening seasons. That perhaps they’d put up a fight for a several months, but ultimately fade from the playoff picture as the year wore on and just miss the cut as April finally came around.
My how things change.
Golden State, at 29-17, boasts the West’s fifth-best and and league’s seventh-best record, while the Suns have fallen on hard times and are just a game ahead of New Orleans for conference futility at 16-31. Two other major aspects stand out from that season-opening Halloween win with respect to the present: the dreadful performances of both David Lee and Stephen Curry and the Suns’ coaching situation.
Lee, this organization’s first All-Star since 1997, and Curry, arguably the league’s biggest All-Star snub, combined to shoot 4-0f-30 from the field in that Warriors victory, combining for just 11 points. They contributed in other areas (nine rebounds for Lee, eight assists for Curry), but the opener was hardly an indication that these two would form one of basketball’s most devastating tandems. In fact, when looking back the entire first month of the season has proven to be an anomaly for both guys – Lee was plagued by those seemingly never-ending defensive lapses and stretches of ball-stopping, while Curry shot 43.0% from the field and averaged almost a full two points fewer than he does now.
Though less relevant on a league-wide level this season, the big change in Phoenix looms even larger from an organizational standpoint. Mired in a 2-13 slump in their previous 15 games, the Suns parted ways with head coach Alvin Gentry – one of the league’s most respected basketball minds, it should be noted – on January 18th. Whether the blame for Phoenix’s struggles could be mostly attributed to Gentry is certainly debatable. After all, the Suns are in their first season of the post-Steve Nash era and lack the singular star power to make up for his absence. They’ve some nice players – Dragic, for instance, deserves more attention for his play as a first-time, full-time starter – but those predicting a playoff appearance for the Suns this season were fooling themselves. This is a classic case of the whole failing to match the sum of its parts; guys like Dragic, Gortat, Luis Scola and Dudley could help any team when playing to their strengths with the right players around them. But they don’t in Phoenix, stretched to their limits and then some, and Gentry paid the price for it.
In a surprising move, the general manager Lance Blanks promoted Lindsey Hunter from his position as an assistant head coach for player development to interim coach on January 20th. The move was met with skepticism around the league, for Hunter had no previous bench coaching experience. In turn and somewhat controversially, Phoenix lost two assistants of great worth: Suns legend Dan Majerle and 14-year coaching veteran Elston Turner. Nevertheless, Hunter’s made a good first impression, leading the Suns to a 3-3 record in his six games as head man, including an emotional win over the Lakers on Wednesday in Nash’s first game back in Phoenix.
As far as tonight goes, the matchups, unsurprisingly, favor the Warriors. Though banged up recently, Golden State should have their full stable of players available against the Suns and will likely reap the benefits of it. For as game as Phoenix has been under Hunter, they don’t have the individual brilliance or collective cohesion to pose much of a threat to a team like the Warriors on the road. Working against the Suns’ favor, their three positions of some strength – point guard, power forward and center – are Golden State’s too, but the Curry-Lee-Andrew Bogut trio is far superior to Dragic-Scola-Gortat. Comparing supporting pieces from there, the Warriors’ advantage is even greater. Michael Beasley is just as capable of a big night as shooting the Suns out of a game, while Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry form perhaps the NBA’s best reserve duo.
On a Saturday, in front of a home crowd, working on three-straight wins and finally healthy again, the Warriors would be a tough out for any team tonight. And for the downtrodden Suns? The task of stealing a win at Oracle Arena seems closer to futile than possible.
Statistical support for this article provided by NBA.com.
Follow Jack Winter on Twitter @armstrongwinter.