Preview: Golden State Warriors (12-17) at Phoenix Suns (14-19)

Golden State Warriors 106, Phoenix Suns 104



PHOENIX — Only once this season have the Phoenix Suns pulled off what any good NBA team might call a winning streak. The Suns are looking for a third victory in a row tonight against the Golden State Warriors at home, and they could hit their second strong stretch of the season heading into a crucial All-Star week’s rest, nonetheless.

Grant Hill has been there before, and the veteran forward believes this game is a crucial one, simply to keep confidence and momentum up before All-Star weekend. Couple that with time to rest before playing nine of 11 games in US Airways coming out of the week-long break, and the opportunity is there for Phoenix to rip off a strong stretch of ball.

“The break is coming at the right time,” Hill said after Monday’s blowout win against Washington. “You want to go in, have a chance reflect on what you’ve done, what goals you want as a team moving forward.

“Good things happen when you have some momentum,” he added. “In spite of how we’ve played thus far, if we can get this win on Wednesday, which is a very winnable game, then let’s see what we can do when we get back.”

When the Warriors and Suns met on Feb. 13, Golden State pulled off the upset to earn their own three-game winning streak, the first under first-year head coach Mark Jackson. After that, they lost three games in a row to Portland, Oklahoma City and Memphis.

But in their last game on Monday, Golden State regrouped to beat the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers.

The Suns, meanwhile, have been hard to figure out for a myriad of reasons.

Aside from not knowing whether an energy-driven team will show up opposed to a slow-moving, unenthused one, Phoenix — especially elders Steve Nash and Hill — has found success in second games of back-to-backs with a winning record of 5-4 in those situations. Add in some surprising losses at home to teams like the New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors, and you generally don’t know what to expect.

But this game acts as a springboard to the second half of the season, even a validation of improvement. And with a breather on the horizon, save for Nash playing in the All-Star Game and Markieff Morris in the Rising Stars game, there’s still positivity in the locker room that Phoenix can make a playoff push.

Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, though surprised in how well Nash and Hill have played in back-to-backs, must be licking his chops at the timing of this current success, the All-Star break and the favorable home schedule coming up afterward.

On Monday, Hill admitted he’s still getting into shape from the knee surgery in the offseason. It was a setback to his training, and he said that he “didn’t start running until two or three days before (training) camp.”

The same rest will be invaluable to Nash. Ever the fan of his All-Star point guard, Gentry admitted he didn’t want the two-time MVP to be selected for the NBA All-Star game on Sunday, giving himself time for as much rest and recovery as possible.

“I was kind of hoping he didn’t make it,” Gentry joked. “That’s selfish to say.”

Three keys for Phoenix

Attack Udoh. The Suns might want to be wary of what’s developing on Golden State’s young roster. And no, I’m not talking about the backcourt combo of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. Center Andris Biedrins was out against the Clippers, giving raw big man Ekpe Udoh his first start of the year. The second-year pro pumped in 19 points and eight rebounds in the upset, and paired with workhorse David Lee will pose match-up problems against the Suns should Mark Jackson go with him tonight. Marcin Gortat has been on a roll of late, and attacking Udoh early and possibly looking at Channing Frye at center — that might keep David Lee out of his hair — might be a way to hurt the athletic big man’s confidence.

Zone carefully. In the past week or so, Gentry has started using spurts of a zone defense. That was part of what got the Wizards in a funk on Monday, but against the Warriors, perhaps the use of zone should be relegated to the Warriors’ bench. The Suns usually pull out of the zone as soon as teams hit a jumper against it, and it’s likely not a good option to throw out against guys like Ellis and Curry, two of the better shooting guards in the league. The Suns could still use it against the Warriors’ bench — although rookie Klay Thompson is a landmine waiting to be set off — but going with a man-to-man defense the entire game wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

Aggressive Junkyard Dog. It’s no secret that when Jared Dudley gets involved in a game offensively, he’s going to make a huge impact. While many players offer the theory that their strong defense makes their offense come easily, I’d say the opposite is true for the Suns’ starting shooting guard. Whether getting him the ball off set plays or pushing him to drive it to the hoop for a slam dunk reverse layup, getting Dudley into impact mode will go a long way toward a Phoenix victory.

  • Scott

    The Suns can win this game if they keep their speed and intensity up. They have to keep that part of their game consistent if they want to win against ANY team.

    As for Gortat, some here have been complaining about his performance, but I think his problems of late have been primarily mental. In a way, he’s still almost like a rookie. He’s never had to play so many NBA minutes, nor be so involved with the offense, nor be responsible so continuously for snaring rebounds. His body has held up well this season, but it seems to me his mind is still catching up to a level of discipline that was never needed before. He has to stay constantly focused, ready to move, ready to catch the ball; it’s something to be learned, and that will only come with more games played.

    No, I don’t see Gortat as a “beast” or an All-Star. But I believe he’ll be a little better as he goes on, and while I don’t see him ever being a star (like Dirk, Amare, Shaq, Duncan, Howard, etc.), he should remain an elite PF/C (like Scola, Nene, Chandler, etc.). And with his agile, low contact play, he could have a long career.

  • Scott

    BTW, anyone else have difficulty accessing VotS? So many times I can’t get the site to display, or I may try multiple times before I get a reply to post.

    Today it took a couple of hours of trying, as I did other things, before the comment above finally posted. :p

    • Michael Schwartz

      @Scott It was down for a few hours this afternoon and there were some issues on Monday as well. I’ll try to figure things out with the hosting company to prevent it from happening, but definitely very frustrating for me.

  • steve

    I have difficulty on occasion. I usually access the site on my phone, and I’ve had my auto-correct stop working a number of times only to have it work the next time I access the site. I haven’t noticed that happening on any other wordpress site.

    I’ll be at the game tonight, hopefully we’ll get back to dominating GSW. Go Suns!

  • steve

    Losses happen, but this is pathetic. They’re not even trying. 2:41 left in the 2nd and I’m feeling like bailing the way the starters have already.

  • Scott

    Close, but a loss.

    The Suns didn’t start the game with the level of energy the Warriors had. And even after the Suns ratcheted it up, there were points where it was clear the Warriors just wanted it more.

    As with Gortat, I don’t see the problem with the Suns being physical at the moment, just mental.

    The Suns are going to have to decide if they’re going to battle their way into the playoffs or not. If they aren’t going to commit to fighting it out, they’re not going to make it.

  • Grover

    Agree. I guess a good sign the Suns put together a good 2nd half comeback to almost win. As much as you can say about the comeback, I’m sure from the point of view of a Warrior fanboy would have looked more like GS was gift wrapping the game than the Suns suddenly playing so well.

    Saw some good intensity in Frye 2nd half. Let’s hope he stays pissed the rest of the year. He plays better cranky.

    Disturbing lack of concentration from too many players especilally in the first half, but continuing through the 2nd half run as well (just not as pronounced or widespread). We really need better play from our backup pg. Telfair has neither the brains to run the offense or the skill op score and defend. We’re I more motivated, I’d love to see stats comparing Telfair and Price when Nash is out. My gut tells me the team is more effective with Price, but comparing the two is kind of like comparing a cat turd and dog turd… They’re both turds.

  • shawn

    I literally started watching this game as the warriors inbounded the ball and I looked at my gf and said oh no the suns are about to lose and sure enough Monta drains a jumper and Frye clanks a 3 game over. I still believe in the suns and the playoffs are not out of the question but a trade needs to be made. Only untouchables should be Nash,hill,gortat,redd and morris.

  • shazam

    @ steve your quote —->”Losses happen, but this is pathetic. They’re not even trying. 2:41 left in the 2nd and I’m feeling like bailing the way the starters have already”….you cant bail…i hold you up as THE example of not being a fair weather fan…sure golden state played the night before and were tired…sure we didnt play the night before and it was our home court..sure one of the golden states starters didnt play most of the game an their team has a losing record…THAT IS NO EXCUSE TO USE WORDS LIKE “BAIL”….your quote again steve —> ” They’re not even trying.”….when the suns have you writing this then what time is it?….time to blow that f-bomb team up…welcome to the dark side :)

  • steve

    Haha, I didn’t end up leaving. I definitely can’t say they didn’t make me think about it though. It’s just hard to find things to cheer for when your team is down 20 and not even making an effort to get back into things. Thankfully the second unit came out with some fire last night and made it an interesting game.

    I had a moment of weakness. It won’t happen again. Go Suns!

  • shazam

    bwahahaha thats a cool post steve :)