Are Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors making early case to meet in Western finals?

Duane Rankin
Arizona Republic

The first Warriors-Suns matchup is still a week away, but that Nov. 30 game in Phoenix could very well be an early preview of this season’s Western Conference finals.

The Lakers are expected to have a say in that despite playing .500 ball so far.

The Jazz certainly are in the conversation.

The Nuggets will be better once Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. return, while the Clippers will squeak into the postseason and be the toughest seventh or eighth seed ever if they can get Kawhi Leonard back for the playoffs.

The Mavericks and Blazers have a puncher’s chance with Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard, respectively, but all those teams aren’t the Warriors or Suns right now.

The NBA's top two teams are winning with defense first.

Anthony Davis (3) of the Los Angeles Lakers is surrounded by Phoenix Suns' Mikal Bridges (25), Jae Crowder (99) and Devin Booker (1) during the first half of a game in Los Angeles on Oct. 22, 2021.

The Warriors (15-2) are first in defensive rating while the Suns (14-3) are third. They each have a primary defender who can guard multiple positions — Draymond Green for Golden State, Mikal Bridges for Phoenix.

They both have depth, are top 10 in 3-point shooting percentage, have a clear and defined identity and are well-coached.

The major difference right now is the Warriors have Stephen Curry, who is a leading MVP candidate.

Chris Paul is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, Devin Booker is a rising superstar, but Curry is one of the game’s top five players who draws so much attention.

You must defend him right inside halfcourt or he’ll pull up from arena logos and knock it down.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) against the New Orleans Pelicans during an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.

Bridges will draw the initial assignment on Curry.

His length, athleticism and ability to move laterally is a problem, but Golden State will force switches to give Curry more favorable matchups.

Paul isn’t backing down from any challenge. Neither is Booker, but Golden State will take those matchups with Curry than Bridges guarding him any day.

On the other end, Deandre Ayton will be a problem if he’s active on the offensive boards. The Warriors don’t have anyone who can handle him in that area, but Draymond Green is all about that life.

He’ll most definitely take on that challenge and try to get in Ayton’s head with physicality and friendly conversation.

Before the shot goes up, Phoenix forces team to either take away the roll to the rim or the 3.

What that does is give Booker and Paul liberty to go to work from midrange.

The key to that is can those two make enough twos to offset the number of 3s Golden State will hit, but the Warriors have multiple perimeter guys who will fight over screens and do all they can to contest those midrange attempts.

Nov 12, 2021; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) shoots against Memphis Grizzlies guard Ziaire Williams (8) during the first half  at FedExForum.

Curious to see how the Warriors look when Klay Thompson and James Wiseman return. If Thompson is at least 80% of the player he was before the injuries, and that’s asking a lot, Golden State will be almost un-guardable.

Imagine doubling Curry and leaving Thompson open?

That’s championship Warriors basketball.

Wiseman will give the Warriors the size and athleticism they lack, but how good he is at this level remains an unknown. Talent is there, but is he a difference maker?

Frank Kaminsky is out indefinitely with a stress reaction in the same right knee that had a patella stress fracture, keeping him out for months in the 2019-20 season. He’s a third big, but an important one who showed he can get it done when Ayton missed six games with a leg injury this season.

November 6, 2021; Phoenix, USA; Suns' JaVale McGee (00) and Jae Crowder (99) celebrate a 121-117 win over the Hawks at the Footprint Center. Patrick Breen-Arizona Republic

Still, the Suns have their core back from the team that reached last season’s NBA Finals with the addition of JaVale McGee, who won two championships with Golden State, and Landry Shamet.

Those two are not only big parts of the second unit, but are playing key minutes with the starters, too.

By the time Golden State and Phoenix meet a third time in Phoenix on Christmas Day, they may very well have further separated themselves from the pack in the West.

By season’s end, the Warriors and Suns might be 1-2 going into the conference playoffs unless the Lakers find themselves and play up their big names.

But by next week, the anticipation for this matchup should lead to a sellout crowd even if the game is on a Tuesday at 8 p.m. on TNT.

If not, shame on Suns fans.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

Support local journalism. Start your online subscription.