Coming into this game the Phoenix Suns (23-52) are a team desperate to end their losing ways. The Golden State Warriors (43-22) come in entrenched in a playoff race and each appear to be obstacles for one another, respectively.
Losing tonight would put the Suns into unique company with Orlando (12, 10, and 8), Charlotte (18 and 10), Washington (12 and 8), Detroit (10 and 8), Cleveland (10), and New Orleans (11) as teams with 8+ game losing streaks. A loss to the divisional rival Warriors would match the longest losing streak in nine years for the franchise.
The Warriors present unique challenges for a Suns team that has allowed 100+ points in 11 of the last 13 games overall.
Gaining a defensive identity takes a lot more work, effort, and tweaking than the changing of a head coach and saying words in front of a camera. The Suns are learning that in real time as they have struggled to get stops consistently leading to the current streak they are mired in.
The Warriors have gotten things back on track after losing four in a row winning eight of their past eleven games as they are getting healthy for the playoffs.
(Recent) History Lesson
Aside from the classic that was the season opener, the Warriors have owned the Suns this year beating them all three times, and the last two games by 10+ each. In the two games in Golden State, Steph Curry connected on eight deep balls controlling the pace.
Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)
Suns: 107.4 PPG (8 wins)
Warriors: 103.7 PPG (6 wins)
This has been a fluid rivalry that has flowed one way and now is flowing back down stream on the Suns. Discounting the past two seasons the Suns were 7-1 against the Warriors and the past two seasons they are 1-5 against the younger, more skilled, and improved Warriors team.
Curry vs. Suns: 14.1 PPG 5.1 APG 40.0 3PT% (14 games)
Dragic vs. Warriors: 11.1 PPG 4.5 APG 48.2 FG% (15 games)
Typically the Suns hold Curry in check, but this season he has had two of his three better performances against their divisional rivals. Also, typically, Dragic does not start against the Warriors, but when he has Dragic puts up very good numbers to the tune of 17.0 points per game and 8.2 assists per game.
Potential Suns Inactives: Marcin Gortat (sprained right foot)
Potential Warriors Inactives: Brandon Rush (left knee surgery)
Wesley Johnson vs. Klay Thompson
This season the Warriors are 17-7 when the second year wing scores 20+ points. They are 7-1 when he scores 25+ points in a game this season showing the value of having him as a secondary scorer next to Curry.
Over the last 11 games Johnson has collected 14 steals while scoring 14.2 points per game becoming a dual threat on the court. It is not inspiring winning basketball, but his ability to make Thompson work on both ends of the court could be the difference in an eighth straight loss or a halt to the losing streak.
Interesting Stat: Top 10/Top 20
The Warriors are one of only five teams (Miami, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and LA Clippers) that are in the Top 10 in scoring and the Top 20 in defensive points against.
Meaningless Stat: Bottom 10
The Suns are one of three teams (Orlando and Charlotte) that are in the Bottom 10 in scoring and in the Bottom 10 in defensive points against. There is that.
I can count on more than one hand, maybe even more than two hands, the number of times opponents have tried to get into the head of Dragic this season and in his first 2+ years with the Suns.
He is not the biggest player on the team, and certainly not the most muscle-bound. He's a small kid on a big man's playground.
Some of those have been flagrant attempts to get Dragic off his game, to send a statement to him and the Suns that the Suns are exactly what their reputation says they are: soft. That's exactly what happened Wednesday night, when Blake Griffin stood over Dragic, straddling him after a foul. And it happened later in the same game when Ryan Hollins wrapped his arm around Dragic's neck and dragged him across the court.
"Maybe that was the plan - to try to get me frustrated," Dragic said after the game. "Blake does this kind of thing a lot. It's not the first time. He didn't step on me. He just stood over me."
P.J. Tucker eventually came over after a few seconds to push Griffin off of Dragic.
Then later, it was Hollins trying to punk Dragic, even with a 25 point lead in the 4th quarter. Dragic tried to get off, but couldn't against the bigger player.
"You have to stand for yourself and get separated," Dragic said. "Michael [Beasley] helped and separated us. I feel sorry for him because he got ejected. He was a true teammate and he helped me. I would do the same thing. It's hard when the big guy is going against a point guard."
Sure enough, while Tucker and Jermaine O'Neal (the Suns 'toughest' guys) barked at Hollins and O'Neal tried to slip his arm in there, no one forcibly separated the two until Michael Beasley did. Check out that link above, on the first mention of the Hollins foul. Beasley did the dirty work.
Yeah, THAT Beasley. The one who calls himself B-Easy and Easy Street. It was Michael Beasley who had separate them, and then keep pushing Hollins away until Hollins' own teammate Lamar Odom finished the job.
"He choked Gogi," Beasley said of Hollins' foul on Dragic. "These guys in this locker room are my family. They're my brothers. You're not going to choke my brother and sit there and smile about it. I feel like the only reason he did that was because it was Gogi. He's bigger than Gogi.
"I'd do it a million times," he continued. "I'd do it for anyone in this locker room. That's not right to do anybody. You want to pick on somebody, I got a 7-footer to my right (O'Neal) that likes that kind of stuff. Don't pick on our smallest guys and then to put him in a headlock and hold it for five minutes? I just wanted to get him off Gogi and he threw his fists up at me. That's when the situation got heated."
There was a shoving match after Beasley separated them, and Beasley didn't back down.
My problem, or it might be better to "concern", is this: why did it take several seconds for ANYONE to separate Hollins from Dragic's neck?
Like I said earlier, this isn't the first time Dragic has been hit hard on a foul this season, and it's not the first time in his career it's happened either.
Dragic keeps a cool head in those situations, preferring to beat them on the basketball court later in the game rather than beat them with his fists. Goran has a reputation of getting back at players who punk him by doing it in a basketball sense.
I can't place it specifically, but I know there was at least one other time in Dragic's first Suns stint - with a whole different roster - that he was laid out, or stood over, and no one came to his aid then either. Not at first.
Why is it that basketball players are so averse to fighting, or defending their brethren?
Jermaine O'Neal got in there, but for some reason didn't push hard enough to get them apart. P.J. Tucker barked at Hollins, as did Jared Dudley. But they didn't step up like Beasley did.
I applaud Michael Beasley for defending Goran Dragic. He has raised his reputation a few notches in my book.
Look, at this point there is VERY little that the Phoenix Suns do on the court that is of interest to me. This season is good and thoroughly dead and buried. To the degree that anything still happening matters in the big picture, it's about individual players and perhaps anything we might glean about the coaching stylings of Mr. Lindsey Hunter.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, but watching the Suns vs Clippers game on Thursday morning (no, I don't stay up late to watch this team very often), something caught my eye regarding the the play of the perimeter defenders.
Most notably, the combination of über-aggressiveness combined with ever-changing coverages and assignments.
Here's what Interim Coach Hunter had to say about a game that saw the Suns give up 57 points in the first half and still score 50 to keep the game...not a blow out (yet).
Fight breaks out in 4th quarter of Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers game
"It was turnovers (21), it was a lack of execution and, in some cases, it was a lack of effort," Suns interim coach Lindsey Hunter said.
That's fine. All those things are true. But how about the defense from the defensive specialist coach?
I'm going to show you two plays that typify the problems I saw. In both cases, poor Luis Scola has the unenviable task of trying to guard the monster DeAndre Jordan and trying to protect the rim. Not to pick on Scola, but he's not exactly well-suited for either task. And yet, as you will see, he's got no chance when guards enter the lane so easily.
This first play started when Jordan reached over Scola and back-tapped an offensive rebound which proceeded the sequence we see here with the P.J. Tucker closing out WAY too hard and getting easily beat off the dribble by the
super quick still effective Caron Butler.
At the point, Scola steps out to stop penetration which leaves Jordan open for an easy lob-dunk.
On the second play, Goran goes over the Blake Griffin screen to chase Willie Green into the lane. This time, Scola stays home on Jordan to protect the lob and gives up a layup to Green. There's very few NBA bigs who can both stop penetration and prevent their own man from dunking behind them. To say the least, Scola is not one of those guys.
Now, go back and watch both clips (no pun intended) again and focus on Markieff Morris. In both cases, Morris stays with Blake in what was obviously part of the game plan. Griffin, by the way, finished the game with just nine points. So congrats, you "shut him down" but put the rest of the front line in an impossible position.
OF COURSE, this is a problem the Clippers create for a lot of teams. They have a lot of talent and they are tough to defend. If you don't paste a defender to Griffin's hip, he's going to tear you apart. If you do, you open up other things. Congrats to the Clippers for (in this game at least) taking advantage of those advantages.
But still, I wonder about the decision to be so aggressive on the wings knowing you have so little ability to help in the paint. I'm also not seeing a lot of the simplification that Hunter talked about when taking over. I could be completely wrong, but it seems he's falling into the trap of trying to over-coach for each situation. This is very much a flaw of Mike D'Antoni's defensive style (yes, he has one).
Is this a player problem or is this Hunter's aggressive philosophy that served him so well in his own career in a different era not fitting in with today's NBA? This is one of many questions that Lance Blanks will have to answer when it comes time to replace or stick with Hunter.