Warriors-Suns Preview

One of Steve Nash’s former proteges has the chance to help the

Phoenix Suns begin a new era.

Goran Dragic will attempt to help the Suns begin moving on

without the two-time MVP on Wednesday night when they host the

Golden State Warriors.

With Nash gone to the Los Angeles Lakers after eight years in

which he turned Phoenix into one of the NBA’s most high-scoring

teams, the Suns are handing the point guard reins to Dragic, who

signed a four-year, $30 million dollar deal in the offseason to

return to the place where he began his career under Nash’s

tutelage.

Dragic emerged as a starter in Houston last season, but became

expendable with the signing of Jeremy Lin. His return has given the

Suns (33-33) reason to be optimistic as they try to move on from

the loss of one of the most popular players in franchise

history.

“My confidence is huge,” Dragic said. “I feel awesome. I feel

great. I’m in shape now. I just try to find the open guys and just

be myself.”

After moving into the starting lineup for the final 26 games

last season, Dragic averaged 18.2 points and 8.3 assists for the

Rockets. During that stretch, only four point guards averaged more

points.

“I thought him leaving, going to Houston and starting has helped

his confidence, helped his maturity,” swingman Jared Dudley said.

“He definitely is the face of the franchise now. It’s his

show.”

The Rockets’ eagerness to create cap space helped Phoenix more

than once in the offseason. The Suns were awarded Luis Scola after

winning an amnesty auction following Houston’s decision to release

a big man who’s averaged 16.7 points over the past three

seasons.

He’ll join a frontcourt that features leading returning scorer

and rebounder Marcin Gortat, but won’t have Channing Frye, who’s

expected to miss the season because of an enlarged heart.

The Warriors (23-43) were hoping to have finally found a

long-term solution in the middle when they acquired Andrew Bogut

from Milwaukee in March. Bogut, who has averaged 10.4 rebounds and

2.5 blocks the last three seasons, should help the Warriors improve

after finishing 28th in points allowed (101.2) and rebounds per

game (39.2).

But Bogut has yet to suit up for the Warriors and hasn’t played

in a regular-season game since Jan. 25 due to a fractured left

ankle. He’s still feeling the effects of that injury, but went

through a full practice for the first time this season Monday and

could play depending on how the ankle reacts.

Either way, Golden State will rely on returning leading scorer

and rebounder David Lee for production in the paint. Lee averaged

20.1 points and 9.6 rebounds a year ago, and scored 50 points in

two games against the Suns.

Stephen Curry has also had his share of injuries, but he’ll play

Wednesday despite rolling his surgically repaired ankle during the

preseason. Similar injuries limited Curry to 26 games last

season.

He’ll also suit up with a bit of long-term security. Golden

State gave Curry a four-year, $44 million extension hours before

Wednesday’s deadline, a move that certainly carries a risk factor

given the concerns over his ankle.

Curry will be joined by a pair of impressive young wing players

with range. Klay Thompson will start at shooting guard after

averaging 18.6 points while starting his final 28 games as a

rookie, while coach Mark Jackson named 2012 No. 7 overall pick

Harrison Barnes the starter at small forward on Monday.

Barnes averaged 10.4 points and shot 49.2 percent in the

preseason.

“There is a lot of optimism and lots of excitement,” Curry told

the team’s official website. “The roster is a little more

experienced and we’re shaping up well. Once Wednesday starts it’s

about taking those opportunities that we have in front of us.”

The Suns, meanwhile, are hoping to revive the career of another

former top 10 pick. Michael Beasley, who averaged a career-low 11.5

points with Minnesota last year, had 29 points and 10 rebounds

against Denver to close the preseason.

“That’s the kind of effort we have to get from him night-in and

night-out,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “He can be a playmaker, also.

We just have to get him to that point where we get that type of

effort consistently.”

The Warriors took two of three from the Suns a year ago,

including a 106-104 win at US Airways Center that snapped a 13-game

losing streak at Phoenix.