Phoenix’s first-round opponent is unknown right now.
If they maintain the second seed or catch Utah to finish the regular season atop the Western Conference, the Suns will face one of four teams out of the play-in tournament.
The seven through 10 seeds will settle the play-in May 18-21.
Golden State is currently an eighth seed.
Looking at who Phoenix may open its first postseason run against since 2010, let’s start with the Warriors, who they'll play Tuesday to cap a two-game road trip.
Last game: Beat Oklahoma City, 136-97, Saturday. Stephen Curry scored 49 points in 29 minutes, hitting 11-of-21 from 3. He’s made at least 10 3s seven times this season.
“When you see the first two go down, you start to find another level of confidence even to start the game and try to create an avalanche from there.” — Curry.
Next two games: Monday vs. Utah, Tuesday vs. Phoenix.
“This was great to get a couple of home wins (vs. OKC) and build some momentum, but now we’ve got to really put it together against two great teams in a back-to-back. Very difficult circumstances with both teams fighting for playoff positioning. There’s not going to be any letdowns from any of those opponents.” — Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Record vs. Suns this season: 0-2
Game 1: Lost, 114-93, Jan. 28 in Phoenix. The Suns ended a three-game losing streak, their longest of the season, with a 21-point victory. Without Devin Booker (hamstring), Phoenix had seven players reach double figures with Mikal Bridges scoring a team-high 20. The Suns scored 52 points in the paint. Curry finished with a game-high 27 while Kelly Oubre Jr. shot a disastrous 1-of-11 (0-for-5 from 3) for four points in his first game in Phoenix since the Chris Paul trade.
Game 2: Lost, 120-98, March 4 in Phoenix. Another balanced scoring effort as seven Suns once again reached double digits. Cameron Payne scored a team-high 17 as part of a deep 61-point bench effort. Booker sprained his left knee and missed the All-Star game. The Suns once again destroyed Golden State inside with 62 paint points. The Warriors rested Curry and were minus Oubre Jr. (wrist) and Draymond Green (ankle).
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul is defended by Golden State Warriors guard Nico Mannion during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri).
Phoenix wins series if….
Curry will get his, but the Suns can’t allow him to go for 40 or more, something he’s done 10 times this season. The Warriors are 8-2 in those games with big wins coming against Philadelphia, Denver, Milwaukee and Portland as he lit up the Blazers for a career-high 62 in an 137-122 victory Jan. 3.
Golden State is 23rd in the league offensive rating. Forcing someone else to beat them besides Curry works in Phoenix’s favor.
The Warriors are fifth in defensive rating as Green is one of the league’s top defenders, but Phoenix has punished them inside this season. With rookie James Wiseman out with a season-ending knee injury that underwent surgery last month, Kevon Looney is Golden State’s tallest player in the rotation at a generous 6-9.
The Suns must feast inside by either dribble penetration, Ayton in the post or both. The Warriors can counter and go even smaller by putting Green on Ayton, but that shouldn’t stop Phoenix from getting to the rim. If anything, it should encourage the Suns to attack.
Phoenix loses series if....
Curry has one of those epic series when he’s goes completely bonkers.
The Warriors are second in pace and fourth in fast break points. Keeping them out of the open court limits Curry from transition 3s as well Andrew Wiggins and Oubre running the floor. What Golden State lacks in size, it has in wing players.
Oubre is currently out with an injury to his left shooting wrist, but should be back for the play-in. Facing his former team, the explosive Oubre could be an X-factor.
With this being the first playoff series for Booker, Ayton, Bridges and Cam Johnson, expect the moments to get heavy for them at times. Paul and Crowder have deep postseason experience to offset that inexperience to a degree, but the longer the series goes, the tougher it’ll be for Phoenix to put away the Warriors.
Prediction: Suns in five
A Game 7, even at home before what could 10,000-plus fans, is the last thing Phoenix should want in the first round, especially with Curry in the building.