It's been quite a whirlwind since the Suns' season started a week ago, with four games that have featured a few high points (including promising play from rookie Markieff Morris and a rejuvenated Robin Lopez) but also two ugly blowout losses and one heartbreaker to the Hornets on opening night. It would be nice to take a breather and hit the reset button before moving forward, but this lockout-shortened, abbreviated season won't provide many of those. The Suns (1-3) will play their third game in four days as they face the Golden State Warriors (2-2) in Phoenix Monday afternoon.
The Warriors have endured their own ups and downs, with guard Stephen Curry missing a game after re-injuring his right ankle, his backcourt partner Monta Ellis missing a game due to a death in the family, and impressive wins over the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks sandwiched by a 19 point opening night loss to the Clippers and a drubbing at home to the Philadelphia 76ers (sound familiar?).
Steve Nash continues to be the key to the Suns' fortunes, but he's off to a very slow start after suffering a bruised rib in the season opener. In fact, he's playing about as poorly as he's played in his career through these first four games, and the Suns have little time for him to get healthy and get his game right before digging a deep hole in the talented Western Conference. Make a run for a playoff spot? Only a Steve Nash who's healthy and playing at a high level can make that happen.
Jump it for more on this early season matchup between two teams that are in the same position of trying to improve enough from last season to break into the Western Conference's top eight teams.
Golden State Warriors vs. Phoenix Suns, US Airways Center, Phoenix, 1:30 PM MST
Last season the Suns swept the Warriors 4-0, with an average score of 108-95. The mediocre Suns handled the Warriors with ease as Warriors' leading scorer Monta Ellis struggled with 41% FG shooting and 19 PPG in the four games. Grant Hill's defense helped to contain Ellis from his season averages of 24 PPG on 45% shooting, and the Suns won each game going away.
The Warriors have a new head coach in former ESPN game analyst Mark Jackson, and are emphasizing defense in the same way the Suns are. In their two wins this season, the Warriors gave up only 91 to the defending Eastern Conference champion Bulls, and 78 to the Knicks.
Hill's defense on Ellis will be a key, assuming Ellis plays, but Nash was also money in those victories, outdueling young grasshopper Curry as he averaged 16 points and 13 assists on 50% FG shooting in truly Nash-ian performances.
We have yet to see a Nash-ian performance this season. Nash is averaging 8 points and 8 assists per game through the first four, and only shooting 31% from the field. He's clearly not right, be that due to the injury or age or needing to find his legs after the lockout. The simple stats are troubling; the advanced stats are alarming.
Win shares per 48 minutes is one of my favorite stats. Like any stat, it isn't a be all, end all but it is a good general rule of thumb. It attempts to quantify positive plays vs. negative on both ends of the floor. It's not comprehensive, but more so than most other measures. This is a very small sample size. Take it all with a grain of salt, but seeing Nash as our lowest performer there (column on far right) is a bit jarring.
Losing to the Thunder was to be expected, losing to the 76ers is looking slightly less embarrassing but the Suns need to take care of business at home against teams that are at close to the same level. Let's get a win here!
For more on the Warriors, visit our friends at Golden State of Mind.
Update 1/2/12 12:11PM MST: Paul Coro reports that Warriors PF David Lee will miss today's game with an illness.
Update II 1/2/12 12:27PM MST: Dominic McGuire will get the start for the Warriors.