Xmas Day Game Preview: Warriors frustrated while Suns are living the dream – Bright Side of the Sun

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The two best teams in the NBA face off on Christmas Day
What: Golden State Warriors (26-6) at Phoenix Suns (26-5)
When: 3:00pm AZ time **CHRISTMAS DAY**
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: ABC / Bally Sports AZ
Listen: 98.7 FM
Odds: DraftKings
Merry Christmas, Everyone!
Your gift from the NBA is to watch the two best teams in the NBA face off on national television! The league-leading Suns and Warriors have THE marquee matchup for Christmas Day basketball and game time is right smack dab at the perfect time.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Suns forward Cameron Johnson said this week. “Playing on Christmas, getting out there, and I’m just super excited for that.”
You like shooting? Stephen Curry has no peer. The Suns and Warriors, on the whole, have two of the most efficient offenses in the league, ranking top-4 in all the advanced shooting categories.
You like MVPs? Two MVP candidates face off, in Stephen Curry and Chris Paul.
You like defense? Suns and Warriors have the league’s best two defenses!
You hate blowouts? These teams have each beaten the other this season, so the game should be close and hotly contested. Winner gets an extra present for Xmas.
Let’s get it!
The Warriors have been mixing and matching of late, due to injuries and COVID Protocols. Starters Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole have been in protocols and most likely will not be cleared by game time. They have inserted Damion Lee (also in COVID protocols now) and Jonathan Kuminga in the starting lineup in their place. Also, backup Andre Iguodala is day-to-day with knee soreness/management, while Klay Thompson and James Wiseman have not played yet at all this season and won’t play on Christmas.
The Suns have gotten healthy recently, after losing at least one of their top two scorers (Booker/Ayton) for 13 of 31 games so far this year. The only players out right now have been out a while: Abdel Nader, Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric, all with knee issues.
Golden State has recently dealt with a bit of COVID issues, losing three wings (Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole and Damion Lee to protocols). And they’re still missing All-Star Klay Thompson, who hasn’t played since 2019.
Before you feel too bad for the Warriors, though, read the Suns Notes section on injuries and missed-time.
On Thursday night, the Warriors beat the streaking Memphis Grizzlies with a 7-0 run in the closing minutes — including a huge corner three from Gary Payton II — and now are just .5 games back of the Suns. Payton is shooting 46% on threes in the month of December.
Stephen Curry is the MVP favorite. Draymond Green might win Defensive Player of the Year, and might even make the All-Star team again despite having no scoring skill to speak of.
The Warriors are definitely not happy being on the road on Christmas, though.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr complained: “It is an honor to play on Christmas — it’s a showcase and everybody’s watching — but I do think there should be a rule in the NBA that you can’t be on the road two years in a row. Just making that clear. Because last year we were in Milwaukee and this year we’ll be in Phoenix, and that doesn’t seem right.”
Two years ago, the Warriors were coming off a Finals run but were facing a down year with Klay Thompson injured and Kevin Durant bolting for Brooklyn. Last year, the Warriors were coming off a season they’d only won 15 games and were still without those two stars when scheduling was announced.
Kerr then added with a chuckle, “But I’m confident that next year we will be at home for Christmas. Or we will all protest and not show up.”
Draymond Green echoed Kerr’s complaints.
“I think that’s legit,” Green said after the game. “I have a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old. I want to spend some time at home with my kids, too. We’re not playing against a defending champion. If we’re playing against a defending champion, you understand, but we’re not. And it’s a bit frustrating to have to go on the road a second year in a row. So now I miss my daughter’s first Christmas, and I’ll miss her second one. It’s kind of f—ed up. But it’s the reality. That’s what we’re faced with.”
Stephen Curry weighed in too.
“I like it because it means you’re one of the marquee teams,” Curry said of playing on Christmas. “There’s 10 teams playing, so you know [the NBA] is very selective about who they put in those slots. … But it is weird — especially on the road, I got three kids and how special a day and weekend it is, so you’re trying to balance being present with them and doing a job and playing a game and staying focused on that.
“I think we’ve played nine straight years on Christmas. That means you’re doing something good, so kind of got to take the good with the bad with it.”
Warriors quotes via Nick Friedell, ESPN
The Suns, meanwhile, are thrilled to get back on the big stage on Christmas Day. This is the first time the Suns have played on Christmas since 2009 — when Cam and teammate Deandre Ayton were barely in middle school.
“I feel like I should thank the NBA for gifting me with a Christmas gift of playing on Christmas day,” Suns center Deandre Ayton said of the game. He said a lot of guys are working out, getting ready for the next game, but “I got kids waking up to go see Deandre and the Phoenix Suns play. That’s an honor. You can’t take that for granted. Stuff like that is just hard work. People recognizing us, just winning and stuff like that, and this is the reward. We just have to be grateful and not take it for granted at all.”
Coming off a Finals run with the league’s second-best regular season record and the same team returning for a repeat, scheduling the Suns for a home game was a no-brainer for the league.
And they rewarded the league be having the best record in the NBA this season.
The Suns are mostly healthy now, after missing one or both of their top two scorers for 13 of their first 28 games, though they are still missing quality bench rotation guys in Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky and even Abdel Nader.
In fact, according to a tweet from Matt Moore/HP Basketball/Action Network, the Suns have ‘lost’ the 8th-most vorp (value over replacement player) and win shares mostly because of Booker and Ayton’s missed games through December 20.
Here’s VORP pic.twitter.com/nSTjyhWPKC
And here’s Win Shares pic.twitter.com/ViO5X2GhDQ
The Suns have ‘lost’ the 8th-most in both metrics, factoring in per-game values of vorp and win shares in games lost by Ayton, Booker, Saric, Kaminsky, Nader and even Cameron Payne earlier in the year for two weeks.
Fortunately for the Suns, they withstood the losses and still have the league’s best record. This doesn’t mean the Suns could have won MORE games with Booker and Ayton healthy the entire time, since the Suns were 11-2 in those games and are 26-5 overall. Just that their likelihood of having won those games was lower than it could have been. Luckily, Suns GM James Jones had ready fill-ins on hand, like Frank Kaminsky, JaVale McGee, Landry Shamet and Cameron Johnson taking on bigger roles when needed, and head coach Monty Williams knew how to deploy them.
Obviously, the key to the game will be Mikal Bridges (and the whole Suns team) on Stephen Curry. In their first two matchups, Curry barely made a shot when defended by Bridges. The Suns will need Bridges to stay out of foul trouble (expect the Warriors to run a lot of early actions to force Bridges into contact) and stay attached to Curry all game.
If the Suns can contain Curry without sacrificing their defense on the rest of the Warriors too much, the Suns should be able to win this game.
I just want a playoff-level atmosphere with two teams who really really want the win.
“When you play the elite teams in the league, just playing isn’t enough,” Suns guard Chris Paul said of the game. “You have to be a lot more cerebral. Playing against Golden State, they always make you think, playing against the Lakers, Milwaukee, all those good teams, they’re going to make you think the game, so it’s always a good test for us because every team is different.”
Draymond Green will be up for the game, despite being disappointed at missing his family on Christmas.
“I think the intensity always on a Christmas Day game is higher because it’s a big game,” Green said. “Like you know everybody at home is watching. Everybody is at home, number one. Nothing’s open on Christmas Day. Everybody’s with their family sitting at home watching TV, so you know it’s one of the biggest regular-season games of the year. And because of that the intensity is going to be ramped up even more. And you got to step up and meet that challenge, and it will be a tough challenge going against a good Phoenix team into their building to get a win. But it’s the task we’re faced with, and I expect us to do that.”
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