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Warriors and Suns already have an eye on the NBA rankings

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Warriors and Suns already have an eye on the NBA rankings

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Stephen Curry made up for it.

What was he already doing talking about the playoffs?

“Four more months,” Curry thought.

He had just had his best Christmas performance – 33 points to surpass his previous record of 19. His team had beaten the Phoenix Suns, who entered with the best NBA record.

He admitted the Warriors had just scored their best win of the season, but as he spoke after the game his thoughts flickered back to the playoffs.

“It’s part of that progress in terms of every opportunity you have, you take a step forward,” Curry said. “Confidence that you improve as a team. Tonight was such a night for sure, especially because you got to feel what a play-off type atmosphere is like. “

The NBA Christmas games offered all participants the opportunity to assess their progress. In the case of Phoenix (26-6) and Golden State (27-6), it was a game many thought was a preview of the Western Conference Finals. It was a close game, Golden State won, 116-107, on the road, but so far there seems to be a chasm between the teams that is not reflected in the standings.

They have faced each other three times in 26 days, with Golden State claiming two wins, and have kept a close eye on the standings all season.

“I think you look naturally,” Suns coach Monty Williams said ahead of Saturday’s game. “We know the records. Even though guys try to pretend they don’t look, we all look.

A few minutes later, Golden State coach Steve Kerr was a little looser and a little more direct.

“I look at the standings every day,” Kerr said with a smile. “And I hope we win and I hope Phoenix and Utah lose.”

He almost got what he wanted for Christmas this year. The Jazz beat the shorthanded Mavericks, who were missing six players, including star goalie Luka Doncic, due to coronavirus protocols.

The league’s Christmas schedule looked threatened with disaster in the week before it, with stars including Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, Kevin Durant of the Nets and Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks due to the protocols. For vaccinated players, this means a positive or inconclusive test for the virus.

Antetokounmpo cleared the league protocols on Friday and the Bucks needed every minute he gave them in their 4-point win over the Celtics. The Knicks beat the shorthanded Hawks with a triple-double from Kemba Walker. The Nets had seven players on coronavirus protocols, including Durant, but still beat the struggling Los Angeles Lakers, leading up to 23 points.

Golden State vs. Phoenix was the only game whose biggest stars were not affected by coronavirus protocols. The Suns had no players absent because of the protocols.

Accused by some of having benefited from a playoff run softened by opponents ‘injury when they reached the 2021 NBA Finals, the Suns’ debut this season responded to that criticism. Phoenix opened the season 1-3, then won 18 straight games, including a victory over Golden State. They had positioned themselves as a worthy opponent of Golden State. Their streak ended with a loss to Golden State on December 3.

Despite this, even before Saturday’s loss, Williams urged caution about his team’s record so far.

“There are just too many good teams in the West that we haven’t played against yet, and too many good teams in the East that we haven’t yet faced,” he said.

He has a point. The Suns have yet to face the Jazz (23-9), Chicago Bulls (19-10) and defending champions Bucks (22-13).

Their last two encounters against the Warriors have shown cracks in their armor that they’ll need to fix to have any real chance of outdoing them in the playoffs. Despite everything they could think of Curry, they couldn’t beat his team. Phoenix struggled to disentangle the Warriors’ stifling defensive effort.

“He does what he does, he hit some crazy shots tonight,” Williams said. “He took 27 hits, he took 10. I can live with that with a guy like Steph.”

Everyone’s problem was (and this Curry still had 33 points). The staff at Golden State’s disposal made the loss particularly damning for the Suns.

Golden State had four players in the coronavirus protocols, two of which were starting regularly. Klay Thompson has traveled with the team and participated in pre-game shooting drills, but he still has not been allowed to participate in games after a knee injury in 2019 and a torn tendon in Achilles in 2020.

That meant 14 minutes for Quinndary Weatherspoon, who Golden State signed on to a 10-day contract last week. Until then, Weatherspoon’s biggest contribution to the NBA had been defending Thompson in scrimmages with the team’s development affiliate in Santa Cruz, Calif., As Thompson struggled to get back into shape.

Weatherspoon starred in the G League showcase last week before learning that Kerr wanted him on the major league squad.

“I got home for literally about two hours and got the call that I was coming to play for the Warriors,” Weatherspoon said.

Weatherspoon said playing with Curry and Draymond Green makes it easier.

Otto Porter Jr., on a minimum contract with Golden State, scored the team’s last 7 points.

More than they’ve been in years, the Warriors rely on young players who need a little bit of guidance to win big games. This falls on Curry, Green and Andre Iguodala, who have won three championships together.

“I’ve had a lot of experiences to figure out what it takes to win,” said Curry. “You have to balance that with focusing on your job when you’re in the field and understanding the expectations that come with that. I like to see guys come in and get into theirs. Regain their confidence.

His demeanor when he responded and his demeanor on the pitch both communicated sincerity – Curry genuinely cares about the growth and development of his teammates.

But he also knows how important it will be for Golden State as he moves forward.

“Everyone needs to be a part of this journey, to have an impact and to help us win games,” said Curry. “Then when it comes to the playoffs, that playoff rotation, you’ve got to have a certain chemistry and a certain level of expectations about how we do things and conduct those reps. That’s the part. physical, but it’s also the mental part. “

Curry wasn’t the only one noticing the Saturday play-off vibe in Phoenix. Suns goaltender Devin Booker did too.

“Making the playoffs last year was my first experience,” Booker said. “So whenever you can get any kind of play-off type game in the regular season, I think it’s good for the team that goes forward. We have things to work on and we’ve seen it tonight.

The challenge will not only be fixing what they found was not working, but catching a Golden State team with less of a learning curve on how to win championships.

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