Each week, NBA.com’s writers will weigh in on some of the most important topics around the league.
Give us one thing fans should watch closely when the Warriors and Suns clash on Tuesday (10 ET, TNT) and Friday (10 ET, ESPN)?
Steve Aschburner: You guys can watch whatever you want, but I plan to zero in on Mikal Bridges and how he’s deployed against Golden State at both ends of the court. His 3-point efficiency is off slightly but the Suns are trusting him more from there and elsewhere. His ratings-per-100-possesions and on/off stats have been terrific. And he’s headed toward All-Defensive team acclaim by spring. There will be a bunch of stars tugging at my eyeballs in the Warriors-Suns matchups, but I want to make sure I pay attention to Bridges’ movements and impact.
Mark Medina: Steph Curry vs. Chris Paul. No doubt, the Warriors and Suns will focus more on the team game than individual matchups. That approach partly explains why both teams have the NBA’s best records. But for entertainment purposes, expect a fun showdown between Curry and Paul. While Curry will hope to make any shot he hoists up, Paul will try to be chippy with him. Though Curry will have reinforcements to limit Paul’s crafty playmaking, Curry has relished the one-on-one challenge partly to show he can be a dependable defender. Either secure your tickets, grab your remote control or refresh your social media feeds to see what happens.
Shaun Powell: Are the Warriors really this good defensively? Draymond Green, obviously. But there’s really no other player in the rotation who brings a certified reputation for stops, and actually, their second-best reputational defender is Klay Thompson and he hasn’t suited up yet. The Warriors lead the league in defensive efficiency and they’ll be tested by Chris Paul’s wizardry, the all-around shooting of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton coming off screens and assorted other Suns left open by the attention paid to those three.
John Schuhmann: Stephen Curry vs. Deandre Ayton. Mikal Bridges will get the Curry assignment on defense, but the Warriors will move bodies (they rank fourth in player movement) and move the ball (they rank first in ball movement) so much that every Suns player will need to react to Curry on almost every possession. So what happens when Bridges is trailing Curry around a screen and into a handoff from Kevon Looney or Draymond Green? Is Ayton willing/able to venture 25 feet from the basket, react quickly, AND stay in front of Curry on a switch? The Suns are a very good defensive team, but there’s a level of mobility required in defending the Warriors’ movement, and Ayton is obviously the weak spot in that regard.
Michael C. Wright: No matter which team is up or the margin at intermission, watch the third quarter closely because it’s likely that frame is the one that determines the ultimate outcome. Colleague John Schuhmann smartly points out here just how lethal Golden State is in the third quarter of games this season, outscoring opponents by 29.0 points per 100 possessions. Phoenix’s best single-quarter differential this season also happens to be the third quarter, where the Suns outscore opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions. The defenses for both teams also tighten up in the third quarter, with the Warriors owning a defensive rating of 89.7 in that span compared to Phoenix’s defensive rating of 100.6 in the third quarter.
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