Suns brace for visit by Warriors
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By Jack Magruder
The Sports Xchange
The Phoenix Suns will ring out the no-so-happy old year with its third consecutive game against the cream of the Western Conference when the Golden State Warriors come to town Monday.
The Warriors will follow Oklahoma City and Denver into Talking Stick Resort Arena in the third game of the Suns? season-long seven-game homestand.
Golden State (24-13) is one-half game behind division-leading Denver, which held off a spirited Suns comeback for a 122-118 victory Saturday. Oklahoma City is one-half game behind the Warriors, who have beaten the Suns in 16 straight, including once this season.
As if that dominant run were not enough, Warriors guard Klay Thompson may have rediscovered his shooting rhythm in the Warriors' 115-105 victory at Portland on Saturday.
Thompson had 32 points on 12-of-21 shooting, and he made 4-of-5 threes, a run that got him talking.
To his right hand.
After hitting his final 3-pointer midway through in the fourth quarter, Thompson brought the hand in front of his face and whispered sweet nothings.
"I missed you," Thompson told reporters after being asked what he said.
"It's good to see you again."
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant had 25 points apiece when the Warriors won the second half of the home-and-home set against the Trail Blazers, but Thompson's resurgence may have been the most significant part of the victory.
Thompson, who set an NBA record with 14 3-pointers in a 25-point victory at Chicago on Oct. 29, had been 11-of-48 from distance in eight games beginning with a loss to Toronto on Dec. 12.
A career 41.6 percent three-point shooter, Thompson is at 34.2 percent this season after Saturday.
"It's been a five-game absence or so where he (right hand) hasn't been in the game, so to finally see the ball go in at a high rate felt really good, Thompson said.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr had an analytic perspective.
"I think the law of averages just took over," Kerr told reporters. "Shots just went in. I didn't think the quality of his shot attempts looked that much better."
The Warriors have won three of their last five games and nine of their last 13 after a rocky stretch in mid-November that included their first four-game losing streak in almost four years while they played through injuries to Curry and Draymond Green.
While they are scoring at about the same rate they have while playing in the last four NBA Finals and winning three, their point differential is at its lowest in that stretch and their opponents' field goal percentage is 45.1, the highest in has been in that run.
With defensive freshness in mind, Kerr expanded his rotation Saturday, when 10 players played at least 12 minutes and the Trail Blazers shot 42.9 percent.
"I didn't like what I did the other night, playing eight guys," Kerr told reporters. "I thought everybody who stepped on the floor did a really good job for us."
The Suns (9-28), who have won five of eight, have encountered trouble stopping explosive guards Russell Westbrook and Jamal Murray in their last two games.
Westbrook had 40 points and 12 rebounds in the Thunder's 118-102 victory Thursday, and Murray had 46 points and a career-high nine threes while playing through ankle pain Saturday.
"We are searching," Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said. "We are looking for a group that can bring presence defensively and some defensive stops."
At times down the stretch in recent games, the Suns have put rookie starter Mikal Bridges and athletic reserves Oubre Jr. and Josh Jackson on the floor with Devin Booker and rookie Deandre Ayton, although all five starters played at least 30 minutes against Denver.
Ayton, who made himself available as the Nuggets consistently trapped Booker, had a career-high 33 points and had 14 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards. He also had four steals.
"He's unselfish," Kokoskov said. "He sometimes is too unselfish, just being a good teammate and trying to make the right play. But (when) you're rolling to the basket and nobody is there, dunk the ball. That's the first option, which he did. I think he was more aggressive."
Booker had 27 points and eight assists despite leaving briefly after suffering a bruised lower back when he took a charge in the second quarter. He has at least 25 points and eight assists in his last six games. Michael Jordan, Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are the only others with such a streak since 1983-84.
"That's dope, for sure," said Booker, who is listed as questionable for Monday, "To be mentioned with guys of that caliber, it just says a lot. Still grinding every day to get better, still trying to get wins. Once you get wins, then everyone is going to have stats like that."
Updated December 30, 2018