We’re barely past the quarter mark of the 2021-22 season. December games aren’t usually “must-wins.” But the survivor of tonight’s game will rule the West, at least for now.
And with how tight the standings have been, a tiebreaker advantage could very well come into play at the end of the regular season.
So can the Warriors get revenge on their home court as Stephen Curry continues to lead the charge in the NBA’s MVP race? Will the absence of Booker, who injured his hamstring during the two teams’ first matchup, swing the game?
Here are four things to watch in tonight’s key Western Conference matchup.
Can Golden State avenge its loss?
The Warriors’ loss to Phoenix was just their third of the season. They “fell” to 18-3 on the year.
Still, Golden State is 8-2 in its last 10 games and statistically remains one of the best teams in the league.
Curry and Co. are second in the NBA in scoring (113.1 points per game) and second in field-goal percentage (48.4). They’re third in the league in rebounding (47.4) and lead the league in assists per night (29.1).
Offensively, the Warriors remain as strong as ever, and they still lead the NBA in defensive rating as well.
The team is perfectly capable of responding and grabbing a win over Phoenix. But will they pull it off?
How will the absence of Devin Booker affect the Suns?
Booker tweaked his hamstring in the first half of round one of Phoenix’s matchup with the Warriors. The injury was deemed “minor,” according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and the Suns are being cautious and holding their star shooting guard out for a “few games.”
Book and Paul have been one of the best backcourts in the league through the first portion of the season. During their unbeaten November, the two combined for more than 38 points, nine rebounds, and 14 assists per game.
In the clutch, the two have been even deadlier. Booker is shooting 73.3% from the field and 60.0% from three in the last five minutes of close games. Paul is shooting 63.6% from the floor and 50.0% from deep in the same situations.
Will CP3 miss his backcourt partner, and will the Suns’ best scorer sitting in street clothes be too much to overcome?
Will Stephen Curry bounce back?
Steph is second in the league in scoring at 27.8 points per game and is shooting 41.2% from three.
But in the Warriors’ loss to Phoenix, Curry was held to 12 points and was 3-of-14 from deep. The Suns were aggressive and constantly blitzed the sharpshooter, attacking him before he could get into a rhythm.
Mikal Bridges — quietly one of the NBA’s best defenders and most improved players — was tasked with following Steph for much of the night. At 6-foot-6 and with above-average athleticism, Bridges has the ability to stick with Curry as much as anyone can.
The Villanova product was a plus-21, and Steph was a minus-17 in Phoenix’s win.
If the Suns — and Bridges — can keep the two-time MVP quiet again, there’s a good chance they leave San Francisco with another victory.
How much will homecourt advantage matter?
The Warriors are 11-1 at home this season. Their 91.7 winning percentage at the Chase Center leads the NBA.
Golden State’s offense hums at an even higher frequency at home — the team averages 116.8 points a night when the players can sleep in their own beds, versus 108.3 on the road.
Phoenix, meanwhile, is better on the road offensively. The Suns average 112.8 points away from home versus 111.8 at Footprint Center. That’s not a dramatic difference, but it shows they can manage to play on the road.
If Phoenix can take down Golden State, it would be the Suns’ 19th straight win and third in four days. It would also give Phoenix a 1.5-game lead in the West.
If the Warriors can get the revenge they’re seeking, they’ll move to 12-1 at the Chase Center. More importantly, they’ll jump back ahead of the Suns in the conference standings.
It’s a rare occurrence when a Dec. 3 matchup is vital in the grand scheme of the NBA regular season, but whichever team pulls this one out will receive a massive boost.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.