NBA

Curry, Paul lock horns again as Warriors and Suns meet in historic matchup

By Sports Desk November 29, 2021

It is very early in the season to describe any game as being akin to a playoff matchup but Tuesday's meeting between the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns has an extremely compelling case for receiving such a label.

The Warriors have been the class of the NBA to this point, their record of 18-2 the best in the league.

However, their title credentials will be sternly tested in Phoenix, where they will face a 17-3 Suns team looking excellently placed to go one better in 2021-22 after losing in the NBA Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks last season.

The matchup between the two Pacific Division rivals will mark the first time in NBA history that two teams with a winning percentage of 85 or higher after a minimum of 20 games have faced each other.

In that sense, it is big as stages get in late November in the NBA, and the Warriors boast a player born to dominate such arenas in Stephen Curry.

 

Curry is enjoying another remarkable year, compiling a superb MVP resume after finishing third in the voting last term.

He is tied for the league lead in points per game (28.6) with former team-mate Kevin Durant, while his season-long plus-minus of 283 is comfortably the best in the NBA. Reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is a distant second on 197.

Curry's 105 made three-pointers are 20 more than nearest challenger Buddy Hield of the Sacramento Kings, seven of those coming on Sunday in another spectacular showing to propel the Warriors past the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.

He will be the lead protagonist in what is likely to be a fascinating encounter between two excellent backcourts. With Klay Thompson still yet to return after two seasons lost to injury, Curry has received magnificent support from the emerging Jordan Poole, who has averaged 19.8 points per game this month and is one of five Warriors in the top 10 in plus-minus for November, illustrating the depth at their disposal.

Three Suns also reside in the top 10 of that list, including their two guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker.

Eleven-time All-Star Paul continues to defy Father Time and is again the Suns' chief creative force after helping them come within two wins of an NBA title.

Meanwhile, shooting guard Booker is hitting a career-high 41 per cent of his three-point attempts, perhaps setting things up for an absorbing back and forth between him and the man most regard as the greatest shooter of all time.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors - Draymond Green

With the vast majority of the attention on the enduring brilliance of MVP favourite Curry, it would be easy to overlook the contribution of Green, who has served as chief facilitator for the Warriors' talisman.

Green has 106 assists to his name in the month of November. No other non-point guard has registered more.

Shooting a career-high 55.5 per cent from the field this season, Green is once again proving he can be a critical part of a potential championship team, and the Warriors will need him at his best on both ends of the floor to maximise their hopes of seeing off Phoenix.

Phoenix Suns - Chris Paul

From his time with the Clippers, through his prominent role in engrossing playoff battles between the Houston Rockets and the Warriors to his increasingly impressive spell with the Suns, matchups that see Paul go against Curry have long since been must-watch affairs.

The 'point God' has consistently been overshadowed by the shooting magic of Curry but, among your more conventional point guards, there is still arguably nobody better.

Paul leads the league with 10.1 assists per game this season, justifying the Suns' decision to bring him back on a lucrative contract after their Finals agony of the previous campaign.

He must ensure the Suns' offense outshines Curry and the Warriors this time around if Phoenix is to send an early message by knocking off Golden State.

KEY BATTLE - Can Warriors beat Ayton on the boards?

The Warriors have been among the best rebounding teams in the NBA this season.

Golden State have registered 47.1 rebounds per game, good for fifth in the league.

Meanwhile, the Suns rank 15th in the same category with 45.7, but do possess one of the top rebounders in the league in Deandre Ayton.

The Suns center is averaging 11.4 boards per game, the sixth-most in the NBA.

If the Warriors are to have the advantage on the glass in this one, they will need to find a way to mitigate Ayton's impact.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Warriors prevailed 122-116 in the last meeting between the two teams, however, Golden State have won only one of their last four games against the Suns in Phoenix.

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    Ousmane Dembele's Barcelona career appears to be drawing to a close, with the club's director of football Mateu Alemany confirming on Thursday that he is up for sale.

    Dembele's representatives have been in talks with Barca since July over a new contract for a player that arrived at Camp Nou in 2017 in the wake of Neymar's departure to Paris Saint-Germain.

    Barca splashed the cash – €105million, to be exact – to bring the winger in from Borussia Dortmund, where he had enjoyed a wonderful campaign in 2016-17 after a move from Rennes.

    Despite Xavi wanting to keep the player, an agreement between the club and Dembele's camp has not been reached and the stand-off has now resulted in Alemany publicly stating the France international will no longer play for Barca now he has turned down their latest offer.

    Dembele has struggled to establish himself as a key player at Barca due to injuries and some reported attitude issues, albeit he has hardly been at Camp Nou during the most stable period.

    He has managed 31 goals and 22 assists in 129 appearances since his debut in September 2017, meaning he has been directly involved in 0.63 goals per 90 minutes, but he has played in just 52 per cent of Barca's LaLiga matches in that time.

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    Liverpool

    Could a move to Anfield be on the cards for Dembele? He has often been linked with Liverpool in the past, and Jurgen Klopp's direct approach could well suit a player that performed so well in the Bundesliga – a competition renowned for aggressive pressing and counter-attacks, which the Reds have down to a tee in the Premier League.

    There is the small matter, of course, of Mohamed Salah. Arguably the best player in the world at the moment, the Egypt star plays predominantly from the right, in Dembele's preferred position. However, there is uncertainty over Salah's future, with a new contract not yet agreed. His deal runs out in 2023 and Dembele could present an ideal rotation option and eventual successor. Klopp would surely back himself to get the best out of the 24-year-old.

    PSG

    A team reported to hold a firm interest is Ligue 1 giants PSG. It would be ironic should Dembele – the man signed by Barca to replace Neymar – ended up playing alongside the Brazil star in Paris.

    PSG already, of course, have a star-studded attack. But with Kylian Mbappe expected to leave at the end of the season and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Angel Di Maria not getting any younger, Dembele could provide a relatively cost-effective replacement, and a return to France might reignite his career.

    Bayern Munich

    Or could a move back to the Bundesliga be the trick for Dembele? Bayern Munich have plenty of top-quality wing options, with Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman, who has just signed a new long-term deal, complimented by youngster Jamal Musiala. Yet in all competitions this season, Dembele has created 2.4 chances per 90 minutes played, and that is better than any of Bayern's current wingers other than Sane (2.6).

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