Fast Forward: W's focused on Suns, not crucial three-game stretch

Fast Forward: W's focused on Suns, not crucial three-game stretch
March 9, 2014, 1:00 pm
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The Warriors are 8-2 since the All-Star break, but will face a tough test over their next three games against the Suns, Mavericks and Clippers. (USATSI)

KEYS TO THE GAME
1) Cage the Dragon. Dragic is a powerful force and his teammates thrive off his boundless energy.
2) Own the glass. Both teams look to run, so the team that rebounds best will have more opportunities.
3) Win the bench war. The Suns like to go to their reserves, especially the Morris twins (Marcus and Markeith), but the Warriors are now equipped to compete.

Programming note: Suns-Warriors coverage tips off Sunday at 5:30 p.m. with Warriors Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (territory restrictions apply)

OAKLAND – The Warriors on Sunday enter the opportunity zone, playing three consecutive games against Western Conference playoff contenders that will have considerable impact on playoff seeding.

First up are the Suns, who visit Oracle Arena Sunday night. After the Suns come the Mavericks, who visit Oracle on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, the Warriors visit the Clippers in Los Angeles.

“The mindset is one game at a time,” coach Mark Jackson said.

Yet all of the players – as well as the coaches – know what is at stake.

“It would be great to go 3-0 in that stretch,” forward Draymond Green said. “But it's going to be a tough stretch. But I feel if we continue to get better, continue to gel together, we're capable of beating anybody.”

While the Warriors (39-24) are 8-2 since the All-Star break and appear to be peaking, the Suns (36-25) have continued to play surprisingly consistent basketball. Projected as a rebuilding squad, they currently have a tenuous grip on the No. 7 seed in the conference.

The Warriors are holding the No. 6 seed.

[RELATED: NBA standings]

The Suns, however, have won two of the three previous meetings this season. Jeff Hornacek is a Coach of the Year candidate in his first season on the job, and point guard Goran Dragic was high on the list of All-Star snubs.

“Dragic is a borderline All-Star; he didn't make the team this year, but he probably should have been there,” center Andrew Bogut said.

A Warriors win would put them three games up on the Suns. As for the Mavericks (currently the No. 8 seed) and the Clippers (currently No. 4), they'll have to wait their turn.

“I don't really think it's about the next couple games,” Bogut said. “The focus for us is the next game.”

Eight of the next 10 Warriors games will take place at Oracle. They have vowed to take advantage of their home court. They believe they can run the table at home, and Phoenix represents the first serious challenge.

“It's going to be a tough task,” Jackson said. “It's going to be a huge game, and we're well aware of it.”

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Stephen Curry vs. Dragic. Though they won't always guard each other, each is his team's catalyst, particularly on offense. The man with the better overall statistical line gives his team an appreciably improved chance to win.

Andre Iguodala/Klay Thompson vs. Gerald Green. Green moved into the starting lineup in December and has shown steady improvement. He is at times spectacular, displaying a rare combination of astounding athleticism and terrific long-range shooting.

David Lee vs. Channing Frye. Frye torched Lee for 20 points, mostly on 3-pointers, in the first meeting this season and Jackson responded by assigning Iguodala in the next game. Green's ascent almost forces Lee back to Frye, though, so it will be interesting.

INJURY REPORT: For the Warriors, G Klay Thompson (strained lower back) is expected to play. C Festus Ezeli (right knee surgery) is listed as out.

For the Suns, C Miles Plumlee (sprained right knee) is day to day. G Eric Bledsoe (right knee arthroscopy), C Emeka Okafor (herniated disc) and G Leandro Barbosa (fractured left hand) are listed as out.

ROSTER NOTE: The Warriors on Sunday recalled G Nemanja Nedovic from the D-League Santa Cruz Warriors, with whom he played two games, averaging 7 points and four assists.

LAST 10: Warriors 8-2, Suns 6-4.

SERIES HISTORY: The Warriors lost two of the first three games this season, both in Phoenix (106-102 on Dec. 15, 122-109 on Feb. 8), winning 115-86 on Dec. 27 at Oracle Arena. The Warriors have won seven of the last nine meetings overall, including a 4-0 sweep of the series last season.

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