By Adam Johnson (@ARJohnson101)
The Golden State Warriors take on the Phoenix Suns Friday night, their second meeting in less than two weeks. When these teams first met in Phoenix, the Suns claimed the victory, 106-102 and Mark Jackson was none too pleased with his squad.
“I’m finding the guys that the guys in suits and ties want it more than the guys in uniform,” said Mark Jackson to Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News after the devastating loss to the sleeper team of the year. The Warriors responded to Jackson’s comments, winning four of their five games since playing in Phoenix.
The Suns are scorching hot right now, winning eight of their last 9 nine games with the development of the backcourt led by Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Both are averaging just over 18 points a contest this year. They combined for 41 points against the Warriors, but the biggest stat that jumps out is the three-point shooting.
While both teams shot well from the perimeter (Warriors, 50 percent, Suns 48.1 percent) the biggest difference is Channing Frye, who went 5-for-7 from deep and scored 20 points, nearly doubling his season average of 11.1 points per contest. While it’s unlikely Frye will have a similarly freakish game, he may be turning his season around, scoring 22 points against the Spurs, and 18 against the Dallas Mavericks.
Defense needs to step up
The Warriors gave up 59 first-half points to the Suns in their previous meeting. The Warriors need to play tough perimeter defense to prevent being burned by the deep three-pointer while allowing Bogut to contain the paint. He has grabbed at least 10 rebounds in his last 10 games, including 20 against the Los Angeles Lakers last week (sans Pau Gasol).
The Suns had trouble scoring inside the paint, only shooting 10-for-22 from short-range, and lived by their premier perimeter shooting. The Suns are not afraid to shoot the long ball, averaging the second-most three-pointers in the league (25.6). Having Andre Iguodala back in the lineup should help the Warriors extend their defense while not sacrificing any inside presence.
Taking Care of the Basketball
The Golden State squad turned the ball over 20 times against the Suns, allowing for Phoenix to score 11 points. The Warriors are the second-worst team in the Association, giving up on average 16.7 turnovers a game. Curry is the second-worst among point-guards averaging 3.9 turnovers per game (only ahead of Russell Westbrook and his 4.0 turnovers per contest). He coughed up the ball six times against the Suns during their last meeting. He won’t have to carry the load as much as he did during the two teams’ previous encounter as Iguodala will be in the lineup.
The Return of Andre Iguodala
It can’t be stated enough, but the absence of Andre Iguodala has been apparent for this team. He was inactive when these teams first met while recovering from a hamstring injury. He will be on the floor for tonight’s game and should make an impact given his performance thus far this season. What’s most surprising about Iguodala’s game is his career-high three-point shooting (45.9 percent) and career best field-goal percentage (52.5 percent).
What Iguodala brings to the table is another capable body on the floor that can score if need be, but because he isn’t the first option on offense, he’s found a home in Golden State as a role player, which suits him much better.
Improve Free-Throw Shooting
In a season of close games, the Warriors cannot afford to shoot poorly from the charity stripe. The team is currently ranked 24th in the Association (72.8 percent), and every point counts in tight games. While Curry saw himself shoot 11 free throws in the previous contest, he needs to find a way to get to the line much more consistently for this team to go anywhere in the postseason when the basketball game slows down. The team shot a dismal 69.7 percent (23-of-33) from the free-throw line during their last game with Phoenix.
Jermaine O’Neal (out)
Ognjen Kuzmic (out)
Festus Ezeli (out)