Time: 7 p.m. MST
Many sports pundits, especially the more analytically minded among them, do not believe in momentum. They may have a case – on a micro scale, within a single game – that momentum is just a myth. The stats put forth on the matter seem to back that up. But momentum definitely exists for players and teams on a macro scale. Take the example of the Phoenix Suns nearly 60 games into the season.
The Suns have kept a hold on a playoff spot despite all the grim preseason predictions of cellar dwelling and a serious injury to Eric Bledsoe. Phoenix’s dream of postseason play is very nearly a reality, but the team has lost two straight. Before the All Star break, Phoenix has two more tough tests at home to the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat
A week is a long time to sit and think, and negative momentum, like the kind that come with four straight losses, can make it feel even longer. And even darker than a losing streak is the possibility that if the Suns fail to win either of these next two games, they leave the door open for the Memphis Grizzlies to knock them out of the playoff picture heading into All Star weekend. Memphis is the hottest team in the NBA since Marc Gasol returned from injury. They are coming on strong and look like a real contender. A big losing streak and a tumble out of the playoff picture is not the sort of momentum the Suns want to have heading into their break. Though they face strong opponents, the Suns have proven time and time again that they can beat any team in the NBA, especially in Phoenix.
A victory over the Warriors on Saturday night would move Phoenix back up to sixth in the standings and into second place in the Pacific division, both of which are much better places to be heading into the calm before what will likely be a stormy final two months of the regular season. For more on tonight’s matchup with the Warriors, let’s ask three preview questions.
Which team will win the battle beyond the arc?
Phoenix and Golden State are two of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA. Golden State’s attack is fueled by sharpshooters Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. Phoenix’s attack is more of a team effort with Goran Dragic, Marcus Morris, Gerald Green, and Channing Frye all contributing from deep.
In these teams’ first meeting, both squads shot well from three, but Phoenix pulled out the win by forcing 20 turnovers and hanging tough on the boards. The second meeting was one of the worst performances of the year for Phoenix. The Suns were awful in every aspect of the game, including three-point shooting, and fell by 31 points. To win tonight, the Suns will need to be accurate and prolific from three on offense, and engaged and active on defense.
Phoenix is actually fourth-best in the league in defending the three despite coming off a game where the Rockets hit 11-of-16 from deep. That defensive effort has to show up tonight against the Warriors or the Splash Brothers could have a serious field day from downtown.
Can Phoenix keep Golden State out of the paint?
In the game Phoenix won, Golden State had 33 points from beyond the arc, but only 30 points in the paint. In the game the Suns lost badly, the Warriors had 24 points from beyond the arc, and 50 points in the paint. For all of their shooting prowess, Golden State has multiple players who can score inside in bunches.
But Andrew Bogut and David Lee are both out with injuries, leaving Jermaine O’Neal, Draymond Green and Marreese Speights to answer the bell.
There are two keys for Phoenix. First, they have limit offensive rebounds. The Warriors are average on the offensive glass, but few teams allow as many as Phoenix, so once again, that’s a trouble area for the Suns to watch. Second, Phoenix has to keep Steph Curry out of the paint. Curry is a devastating passer off of penetration. Once he gets inside, defenses break down and he finds easy buckets for the Warriors’ bigs. Phoenix will have to defend at all five spots tonight if they hope to contain Golden State’s potent offense.
Will Gerald Green find his form?
In January, Green averaged nearly 16 points per game on a respectable 44 percent shooting. But in three February games, Green is shooting less that 28% from the floor and has managed just 23 points in total. Green might be exhausted from a full month as a starter or he may just be in a common slump. Whatever the case, the Suns will need their starting shooting guard tonight if they hope to keep pace with the Warriors.
No one gets the home crowd more excited than Gerald Green. And in turn, no one feeds off the home crowd more than Green. Gerald is as streaky as they come, and he is more than due for a hot streak tonight.