Game Thread: Suns (26-20) at Warriors (15-34)

Warriors 124, Suns 112











Matt Barnes will return to the scene of his greatest NBA success trying to rediscover his shooting stroke from the first part of this season when the Suns visit the Warriors tonight.

Barnes, a Northern California native, “made it” in the NBA after a two-year stint with the Warriors that included eighth-seeded Golden State’s upset of No. 1 seed Dallas in the 2006-07 playoffs. He started 23 games that season and averaged a shade under 10 points per game after bouncing around the league his first couple years.

When the Suns signed Barnes to a one-year, $1.2 million deal it looked to be a steal 21 games in, as the swingman averaged 12.8 points per game in 30.1 mpg while shooting 49 percent from the field and 44 percent from three-point range.

He started the majority of those games, before the Suns decided it would be better for Grant Hill to play with the first unit. That decision has been a major boon for Hill but just as big of a detriment to Barnes after he initially played well as a reserve.

Matt Barnes

Matt Barnes

In his past 20 games starting with the Dec. 20 contest against Denver, Barnes is averaging just 6.8 ppg in 21.4 mpg while shooting 33.6 percent from the floor and 24 percent from long range, scoring three points or fewer in six of them.

Barnes has complained about his lack of playing time, but that’s an old chicken and the egg question: Is Barnes playing worse because his minutes are down or are his minutes down because he isn’t playing so well?

Three weeks ago I wrote about Barnes’ struggles and how he’s regressing to the mean of his career statistical values, and that couldn’t be more true now after his numbers were career highs when extrapolated for an entire season 21 games in.

Despite the slump, Barnes is still averaging career highs in points (9.9), rebounds (5.4) and minutes (25.9) and his overall season shooting numbers (42.5 percent from the field, 36.1 percent from three) are in line with his career stats.

Playing in front of 23 relatives and friends and a fan base that used to love him, I’m wondering if tonight just might be the night Barnes turns his season back around.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Barnes told The Arizona Republic. “I’ve just got to go out there and play. I’ve been thinking too much lately, so I’m not going to press. I’m just going to shoot the shots and play hard.”

This game will also mark the second time six-year Warrior Jason Richardson returns to the city in which he became a dangerous NBA scorer.

Last year’s visit with the Charlotte Bobcats was an emotional affair in which fans cheered him in the layup line, gave him a standing ovation and wore his “23″ jerseys en masse. The Warriors even played a video tribute for their former star.

J-Rich told the Republic “all the emotion is gone now,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a bit nostalgic if those No. 23 jerseys dot the crowd once again.

The Suns as a team will have a chance to build on their most-prolific scoring game of the season against a Warriors team that’s dead last in the NBA in opponent points per game and 28th in defensive efficiency, with only the Kings and Wizards below them.

Of course, they score a bunch, too, ranking second in scoring but only 13th in offensive efficiency because Golden State plays at the fastest pace in the NBA.

Steve Nash and Co. certainly know how to play that game and maybe just maybe that kind of pace will help Matt Barnes become the player he was to start the season.

Tags: Jason Richardson

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