EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns face Warriors after long-anticipated playoff matchup never came

Oct 24, 2022, 8:02 PM | Updated: Oct 25, 2022, 12:02 pm
Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks to pass around Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoeni...
Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks to pass around Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of NBA game at Footprint Center on December 25, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Warriors defeated the Suns 116-107. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The NBA’s 2021-22 regular season had its two best teams on a collision course. The Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors were the cream of the crop, and most interestingly, the two sides never got to face each other at full strength across four matchups due to injuries for both sides.

It felt inevitable the two would meet in the Western Conference Finals, to the point where it was important to monitor developments in the Bay Area for the last few months of the regular season like rotation changes, players rounding into form and so on. An epic series was on the horizon.

The Warriors held up their end of the bargain in getting there. The Suns did not.

Tuesday’s showdown is undoubtedly going to be anticlimactic in some ways but at least the basketball purists will get to see how they fare at just about 100%.

Golden State will be without guard Donte DiVincenzo (hamstring), a key offseason signing, and Andre Iguodala (hip). Ish Wainright is still dealing with lower back pain for the Suns and Jae Crowder remains away from the team. Other than that, both sides are good to go.

The Warriors, like the Suns, didn’t do much this offseason in terms of roster movement. DiVincenzo was a signing on the taxpayer mid-level exception, one the Suns haven’t used yet, and veteran forward JaMychal Green joined after getting bought out by Oklahoma City.

Other than that, the losses of Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II, two important role players during last year’s run, are the only notable changes.

But a big-time addition is the health of center James Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. He played in 39 games as a rookie two seasons ago before not playing for over 18 months because of a knee injury.

Wiseman is back. He’s not starting, as Kevon Looney was arguably the Warriors’ third-best player en route to a title last postseason, but having an athlete of Wiseman’s caliber as a diver offensively and rim protector defensively is a dynamic the Golden State dynasty has never had before.

“Looney’s a big dude but he’s not that big,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said Monday of the 7-footer with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. “Wiseman’s big and athletic, so he poses a different challenge for your defense, especially in the second unit.”

Wiseman is going to be setting ball screens for the likes of Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole, so he will find space. And much like Deandre Ayton, what he can do with it is where the pedigree of a top selection in the draft shows. For such a gigantic human being, he is quick and skilled.

If the Warriors can unlock the gravity of Wiseman as a rolling threat on top of all the other offensive firepower they have, watch out.

His defense will swing whether or not we see him in the playoffs. The tools are undeniable but it is a work in progress. Denver gave him the business on Friday.

Learning this stuff right away on a title contender is a lot to take in as a young player. Expect the Suns to give Wiseman his latest crash course.

We shouldn’t just coast by Green like I’m sure many of you did when he got scooped up by the Warriors. Behind Poole, he’s playing the second-most minutes off the bench and is a trustworthy option for Steve Kerr in the big rotation. Golden State had to replace Porter in some way unless second-year wing Jonathan Kuminga was ready for 20-plus minutes per game but it had a reliable veteran in Green fall into its lap.

“Quietly got upset about it,” Williams joked but not really joked about the Warriors getting Green. “You’re like, ‘Why’d he go there?’ … I think people see him just as a tough, physical guy but he’s more skilled than he gets credit. He can step outside and knock down the 3. Just a really good player. I don’t think there’s any team in the league that wouldn’t want to have a JaMychal Green on their squad.”

Green just fills in the gaps steadily across a few quarters before you find yourself saying, ‘You know, he’s been pretty good tonight.’

You can imagine how well that will fit in with the Warriors.

On those triples Williams mentioned, Green is a career 36.7% shooter on over two attempts per game, a great knockdown rate for a big man.

He will get good looks on this team. Here, I don’t even know why the Los Angeles Lakers got so preoccupied with Curry but I get it and they did, which left Green wide open on the swing pass Andrew Wiggins saw the whole way.

Green is a smart passer, and even though he’s on the other side of his career at 32 years old, he’s still fairly agile for his size as an absolute load to deal with on the glass.

He will crash the offensive glass, as will Looney, Wiseman and Wiggins, a Phoenix weakness the Warriors will try to capitalize on.

With the inconsistency of Phoenix’s second unit three games in, the Warriors reserve frontcourt plus the explosive shotmaking of Poole is an aspect of Tuesday’s game to keep an eye on.

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