Talented Backcourts Meet in Warriors vs. Suns

Barry Gossage/NBAE

Sunday night's game features two teams whose respective places in the standings are far different than preseason predictions had them.

Riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak, the Suns are sixth in the West. The Warriors, tabbed as the newest elite team after last year’s postseason run, are currently out of the playoff picture.

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All that can change in the deep and fickle Western Conference. Yes, Phoenix and Golden State are separated by three spots in the standings, but the difference between records is just one game.

That and, as Head Coach Jeff Hornacek was quick to remind after Sunday morning’s shootaround, it’s early.

“We know [the Warriors] going to be right at the top by the end of the season,” Hornacek said. “They proved it last year throughout the playoffs that they’re a great team. We’re trying to get to that position. We’ve done it for 22 games, but we have a long way to go and hopefully we get to their level.”

Tonight would be a good time to start. The Suns will be tested at every position, even with the multi-talented Andre Iguodala likely out due to a pulled hamstring. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson form the best long distance-shooting backcourt in the league. Harrison Barnes has filled in admirably as a starter. Post players David Lee and Andrew Bogut have proven capable of notching big performances on any given night.

The winner of tonight’s game will get an early leg up in the season series and any potential tiebreakers. Both teams are also well within striking distance of the Pacific Division-leading Clippers and the top-four playoff seed that goes to the division winner.

Key Matchup

The battle of the backcourts is where the vast majority of star power resides tonight. Goran Dragic is likely to guard the taller Thompson (6-7), leaving Bledsoe to pester Curry.

The offensive approaches between the two point guards could not be more different. Curry shoots just under 24 percent of his attempts in the paint, compared to 45 percent for Bledsoe.

While Curry will undoubtedly get his fair share of points on the perimeter, keep an eye on how well he and his slighter build deal with Bledsoe’s physical forays into the paint.

Opponent X-Factor

The Warriors are the second-best three-point shooting team in the league, making 41.2 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. They form the latest proficient outside shooting challenge to the Suns’ defense, which hold opponents to a league-low 32.3 percent from distance.

If the Suns have their way, however, Golden State won’t get as many looks from that far in the first place.

“Just try to run them off the three,” Bledsoe said. “It’s going to be tough, but it can be done. Just try to run them off and make them take tough shots.”

Final Thought

Both of these teams love to run, and their respective rosters’ flexibility enables them to do so.

Phoenix and Golden State each boast power forwards that can, in stretches, man the center spot and provide better offensive firepower in the process. The Suns run either Channing Frye or Markieff Morris in that role, while the Warriors will sometimes shift David Lee to the middle.

"They’re kind of like us where they can take [their center] out of the lineup and go with a smaller group,” Hornacek said. “It’ll be a good matchup for us in terms of how we go, how they go, probably back and forth. In the end it’ll probably be a bunch of small lineups.”