Although the eyes of the nation will rightfully be fixed on “The LeBron Game,” only one of the most anticipated regular season matchups in recent NBA history, the undercard should be quite the fun contest as well with the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors renewing acquaintances.
When these teams meet, shootouts are the norm, so something similar to Sunday’s defensive no-show in Denver could repeat itself. Over the course of the last four meetings in Oakland, the Suns have won by an average of 131.5-129.3, including the game when Phoenix dropped 154 two years ago and the contest last year in the midst of the Suns’ 10-game winning streak when Amare put poor Anthony Tolliver on a poster in a come-from-behind victory.
In Paul Coro’s defense story, he noted that “the Suns are last in the NBA in scoring defense, defensive field-goal percentage, points allowed in the paint and rebounding.”
The advanced stats paint a similarly grim picture of Phoenix’s defensive and rebounding efforts. The Suns sport the league’s least efficient defense, with the team yielding 111.5 points per 100 possessions, and they are the worst team in overall rebounding rate (grabbing 45.9 percent of the available boards) and defensive rebounding rate (66.4).
Golden State was at the bottom of both categories last season, but with the addition of David Lee in the offseason the Warriors have moved up a few spots. They still rank in the bottom sixth of the league in this department so by no means should they destroy the Suns on the boards, but they have at least moved ahead of Phoenix, and you can expect them to move up more once Lou Amundson returns to health.
Lee (10.3 per game) and Andris Biedrins (10.4) both average in double figures, but nobody else hits the glass hard with Dorell Wright next at 5.0 per game.
The Warriors’ two leading scorers should give the Suns fits as well considering how much they’re struggling with dribble penetration. Monta Ellis (24.2 ppg) should be able to get into the lane at will on the Suns all night and if they leave Stephen Curry (20.8 ppg) open then he will also make them pay. Wright, who is scoring 15.3 per game on 42.4 percent three-point shooting, could have a field day from deep as the Suns help on Ellis and Curry.
Golden State does not play quite as fast under new head coach Keith Smart as it did under Don Nelson, as the Warriors rank “just” fifth in the league with an average of 98.3 possessions per game whereas Nelson’s teams perennially led the NBA in pace. This still figures to be a quick game with the Suns sixth in pace this season.
The Suns might be without forward Grant Hill after he sprained his foot in practice Wednesday, according to a Coro tweet. Hill does not like missing games, but after all of the issues he had with his feet earlier in his career he likely won’t chance it if he feels it would be pushing it.
If Hill can’t go the Suns are lucky enough to have a bevy of small forwards at their disposal. I bet they would start Hedo Turkoglu and then give plenty of time to Jared Dudley and Josh Childress.
The three days off should help fellow veteran Steve Nash, who had considered taking Sunday’s game off to rest his assortment of injuries.
Nash will be plenty rested to lead what might be another old-fashioned shootout Thursday night in Oakland, so while LeBron’s return to Cleveland will dominate the sport on this day there figures to be quite a show in the nightcap with a Suns defense aiming to return to respectability facing off against a pair of dynamic guards it will struggle to defend.