Everything is golden for the Warriors, while the Suns are still trying to find their way. The Warriors come to Phoenix after beating Houston on Saturday night.
Tonight's game against the Phoenix Suns (6:00pm AZ time on FoxSports Arizona) will be a bit of a homecoming for some of the Warriors, with Steve Kerr (head coach), lead assistant Alvin Gentry and the Brazilian Blur Leandro Barbosa all coming back to where they made their mark in past seasons.
But the Suns have to be more focused on the game than checking in with their former employees. Only Goran Dragic was a Kerr draftee, and only he and Markieff Morris played for Gentry in Phoenix. Barbosa had a return to Phoenix last spring that was marred by injury and didn't provide the positive impact the Suns had hoped.
The Phoenix Suns will recognize Lance Corporal Brandon Coleman Jr. as the Streets of New York "Welcome Home Hero". Coleman returned home to his mother, father (a veteran of the Marines) and younger siblings on Monday, November 3 following his first tour in Afghanistan, where he was awarded the Afghanistan Operation Enduring Freedom medal, Overseas Service medal and the NATO Service medal.
New coach Steve Kerr has the Warriors playing the prettiest brand of basketball there is. They are passing like crazy, lead the league in pace, and at the same time play the best defense in the game.
In fact, it's the Warriors defense that has the team 5-0 moreso than their offense. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are putting up 50 of the Warriors 107 points per game, while only one other player averages double figures (Draymond Green, 12.8 per game). The Warriors barely score more than the Suns per possession this season.
But the Warriors defense is stellar, anchored by Andrew Bogut in the middle and Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala on the wings. The Warriors have played most of the season without David Lee, so their four man is mostly Green who is really a small forward.
After Friday's loss, coach Hornacek said the team might make a minor rotation change soon.
"PJ played well, you know, he's one of our aggressive players," Hornacek said after the Kings loss. "We need that intensity from everybody. He didn't care who he guarded, if it was a big guy, small guy, he wanted to take the challenge. You know, again, he's kind of our guy, our energy guy. So we'll probably have to get him in earlier, I guess."
It might not happen tonight, but soon enough I think Tucker will be back in the starting lineup. Regardless, he's a sure 30-minute-a-night guy which will eat into Marcus Morris and Gerald Green minutes.
The teams split their season series last year, with both teams winning their two home games. The Suns beat the Ws on December 15 by a 106-102 score in what was one of the early "big" wins of the season. Both teams shot lights out on threes and were even on the boards, and both teams' guards were the best players on the court. The Suns eeked out a win with a better supporting cast that night, and partially thanks to a 1-for-6 free throw shooting performance by Andrew Bogut.
Two weeks later, the Warriors drubbed the Suns by 29 in Cali. Everyone on the Suns played poorly.
In February, the Bledsoe-less Suns shot lights out to beat the Warriors, with Dragic going for 34 and 10 and Gerald Green pumping in 25 of his own. P.J. Tucker contributed 16 points and 15 rebounds. Golden State played without Andrew Bogut and David Lee in that game.
The Warriors won the final matchup of the season in Cali. The Suns played well on offense but could not stop the Warriors from scoring.
David Lee is out with an ankle injury.
The most obvious matchup is the Splash Brothers versus and three-headed monster of the Suns. Unfortunately for the Suns, the Splash Brothers have been stellar while the Hydra has not. The Suns will need vintage performances from Dragic and Bledsoe, plus a perfect supporting role by Thomas, in order to win this matchup tonight.
The Warriors backup guards are meep-meep, Brazilian Blur Leandro Barbosa, and Suns killer Shawn Livingston. My guess is that Thomas will guard Barbosa while someone else will be tasked with keeping Livingston in check.
I am thinking that Isaiah Thomas will have a very good game, as will Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. This will be the best Hydra showing since opening night.
It's going to be a tough game. The Suns are struggling on offense and now have to face the best defense in the NBA. Only their best game of the season will produce a win.
My guess: Warriors over Suns, 107-95.
The Suns came into the season expecting wins to come easily, but have found that in the NBA nothing comes easy.
Coming into the season, the young Phoenix Suns players expected the wins to come as easily as they did last season. When Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe were healthy and shared the back court starting spots, the Suns were 23-11.
Each produced just about the same numbers - 18 points, 5-6 assists, 3-5 rebounds, 1.5 steals - in a season where Dragic and Bledsoe found a way to split the ball handling duties. During the offseason, for reasons we won't rehash yet again, the Suns added another starting quality point guard to ensure no drop off in case of injury. When only one or neither of Dragic or Bledsoe were in the lineup last season, the Suns were only 25-23.
Yet, the Suns have not found the wins to come as easy as they expected this season. The Suns have started just 3-3, with two of the wins against the league-worst Los Angeles Lakers.
"We put expectations on ourselves now," forward P.J. Tucker said. "I think we let ourselves down more than anything."
The Suns came into the season expecting to pick up where they left off, but didn't realize that part of the reason they won last season was because they needed to prove themselves. Now, its the opponents who want to prove themselves against the Suns.
It didn't help that Tucker, the source of the team's effort level, was suspended for the first three games of the season. It also didn't help that two of the team's best players started the year trying to prove themselves, rather than just play in the flow of the game.
A year ago, there were no competing motivations. Everyone was on the same page. Today, Eric Bledsoe wants to prove he's a $70 million man, and Isaiah Thomas wants to prove he's just as good as Bledsoe and Dragic. Neither wants to hurt the team. On the contrary, they both feel that the more they contribute, the more the team will win. They just want to win.
But that has led to Goran Dragic not getting as much time at point guard as the Suns need to succeed.
"I try to do what is best for the team," Dragic said last week. "If they need me to stand in the corner and try to space, I'm gonna do that. Hopefully, I will find that rhythm. It's the beginning of the season, so it's kind of hard. We still need some time to figure out those things in the next few games."
According to basketball-reference.com, Dragic is spending nearly all of his time off the ball this year.
Of course, that's not ideal. But last year's numbers are misleading since Bledsoe was injured half the season and Dragic was 100% point guard for more than 40 games.
Bledsoe's breakdown last year was nearly 100% of his time as the point guard (according to both bref and 82games.com) while this year it's down to 70% because of the Thomas acquisition.
The Suns have struggled, not necessarily because of the weird rotations but because the point guards haven't played as well as expected.
The Suns need Eric Bledsoe to make more of his shots and have fewer turnovers. And they need Goran Dragic to be Goran Dragic again. And they need Isaiah Thomas to take ownership and be a leader on the second unit, just like Markieff Morris did last year.
In two of the Suns last three games - against the Lakers on Tuesday and Sacramento on Friday - Dragic was back more often in his familiar spot leading the offense. Not half the time, but a good chunk of it. There were even stretches on Friday night where Dragic was the only PG in the game, flanked by Tucker at the shooting guard spot. In the two games, Dragic averaged 19 points and 4 assists but the Suns went just 1-1 as Isaiah Thomas was less effective in each game.
There are no easy answers. If the rotations were easy, the Suns coaches would have figured them out by now. They are certainly still experimenting.
"It's early, it's early," Tucker said after the Kings loss. "We went through stages last year like this as well."
Indeed, last season after a 5-2 start they lost four straight games in eerily familiar fashion to Friday night. First, a loss to Portland when the Suns missed a point-blank tip-in that would have won the game. Then, an overtime loss at home to the Brooklyn Nets on a last-second shot by a player who until that point was held in check (Joe Johnson). Then home-and-home losses to the Kings. It's like Friday's loss was all those losses wrapped up in one.
The Suns 9-9 start last year included losses to Memphis, Utah and Sacramento (2) - the three 2014-15 losses, by they way - before going on a 10-2 streak culminating in a blowout road win over the Clippers where Bledsoe went down to the knee injury.
So take a breath, Suns fans. No team wins all the games they are supposed to win AND wins some unexpected ones too. There's ups and downs every season.
Isaiah Thomas had a very quiet game against his former team and looked on from the bench in both overtimes as the Phoenix Suns squandered opportunity after opportunity in a gut-wrenching loss.
I tell everybody I love Sacramento. I always will love Sacramento, but when we play them I'm going to kill Sacramento. - Isaiah Thomas
Heading into the Suns 114-112 double overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings I was pondering over which Isaiah Thomas would be on display. I figured that he'd come into the game with a vendetta, looking to vindicate himself and show the Kings their folly for letting him slip away. Based on this I felt his performance would fall into one of two categories.
1. He would have an inspired performance and absolutely torch his former team.
2. He would put too much pressure on himself or be overexcited, which would result in mental mistakes and missed shots.
I hadn't really considered option three.
Isaiah Thomas was practically invisible. Instead of the Kings getting killed, Thomas himself turned into a ghost.
Considering Isaiah's bravado and the ever conspicuous chip on his shoulder, did anyone really conceive he would only attempt four field goals?
To be fair, Isaiah only joined the team right before the game due to a death in the family (great grandfather), but it still seemed blatantly out of character. If he was that perturbed over his loss, maybe he should have asked to be excused from the game. That's what coach Hornacek basically did anyway, limiting the team's spark plug off the bench to 17 minutes.
Thomas had attempted double digit field goals in each of the team's first five games. The loss to Sacramento was the first time Isaiah attempted four or fewer field goals since February 27, 2013. Thomas had played in exactly 100 games since then.
All things being considered it was absolutely befuddling that Thomas was so passive in the game.
He had plenty to prove.
Isaiah cares about what people say about him and think about him. He was very outspoken about the fact that a determining factor in choosing to play for the Suns was "feeling wanted." That makes plenty of sense considering Thomas has been overlooked and undervalued throughout his basketball career.
Former teammate DeMarcus Cousins even (possibly unintentionally) threw darts at Thomas after his exodus to Phoenix.
"It's been incredible. It's been a smooth transition (between Darren Collison and Thomas)," said Cousins. "The ball is moving a lot better. It's not stuck in one place."
It's not too much of a stretch to construe that DeMarcus is calling Isaiah a ball hog. Isaiah has been even more aggressive with the ball this season. His field goal attempts per 36 minutes are up to from 15.8 to 17.2 and his usage rate has gone from 26.3 to 27.1. The disparity was even greater before Friday night's disappearing act.
So why was Thomas so reticent to impose his will on the game through his normal offensive assertiveness?
Part of the reason may have been his limited minutes. Thomas only played 17:19 during the game. He only played less time in one game out of 72 appearances last season. But were the limited minutes part of the cause of his lack of effectiveness, or was his truncated playing time a byproduct of his nebbish performance?
The oddity of Thomas's reduced role in the game was paralleled by Hornacek's decision to keep Isaiah on the bench for all 10 minutes of both overtimes. The Suns offense began to sputter at the beginning of the fourth quarter with Thomas on the court, but when he entered during the third period the Suns were up 73-70 and when he left the game with 6:04 left they were still ahead 94-90.
He would not reenter despite the fact that the Suns managed a paltry 5-16 shooting between the two overtime periods with four players on the court who logged over 40 minutes. Goran Dragic played 46 minutes and Thomas logged just 17. I'm not sure what it would have hurt to give someone a breather for the first two minutes of the second overtime to see if Isaiah could turn it on. Hindsight is 20/20, but I was confused with the lack of substitutions as I was watching the game.
Sure, Thomas wouldn't have helped the team much with their -18 (60-42) on the boards, but at that point can it really get much worse? The Suns were getting abused there either way.
Instead of killing the Kings, the Suns got bloodied and bullied. They couldn't take advantage of Sacramento's best player fouling out as they frittered away leads in both overtimes. Now they've been outrebounded by 18 in two games in the early going, a dubious feat they only accomplished once in 82 games last season.
Thomas's no show wasn't the only reason for the team's loss, though. Despite no single player having a really bad game, everyone contributed to make enough mental errors at key moments to give away the game.
This loss was definitely a team effort.
Hopefully one the team can grow from, because with obvious team chemistry issues and a rotation in flux there is plenty of room to do so.
Hear from P.J. Tucker, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic after the gut wrenching loss to Sacramento on Friday night.