PHOENIX -- At this point of the season, the Warriors probably weren't counting on looking up at the Phoenix Suns in the NBA's Western Conference standings. That has to burn a little.
Welcome to the wild, wild West, where all the teams everybody thought would be good are, and teams such as Portland, Phoenix and New Orleans have elbowed their way into what already figured to be a bruising playoff race.
The Warriors had their way with the Suns last year, going 4-0 and sweeping the season series for the first time since 1976-77, and Golden State owns six straight wins over Phoenix dating back two seasons. But that streak might be in jeopardy in Sunday night's first meeting of the 2013-14 campaign. The surprising Suns are 13-9 under first-year coach Jeff Hornacek -- those 13 wins are more than half of their season total of 25 last year -- and they've won four straight.
"Jeff has done a nice job with that team," said Warriors coach Mark Jackson. "The one thing that jumps out is they play extremely hard at every position -- they get after it, and they play with an edge, which is the first step toward changing a culture."
Phoenix has rather suddenly developed a dynamic backcourt combo in Eric Bledsoe, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, and Goran Dragic, who signed as a free agent in 2012. Both are averaging more than 19 points, dramatic career-high scoring jumps for both players. Together, they have lifted the Suns from the ashes of last year's 57-loss club.
In short, their emergence makes the Western Conference race that much tougher. The 13-11 Warriors enter the game as the ninth-best team in the team in the West (the Suns are sixth), with four other teams right on their heels. Clearly, the rest of the conference isn't waiting for Golden State to get well or sort out its other issues, such as bench production and turnover trouble.
"There are no breaks," said Warriors guard Stephen Curry. "Every team is powerful and capable of showing up big and playing well every single night. Phoenix, from what I've seen, is deep. They're getting some bench production, and Bledsoe and Dragic are playing very well for them. We have to be ready for 48 minutes, especially in their building."
Even though the Western Conference is competitive every year, Curry can't remember it being any tougher in his five NBA seasons. The Warriors are just 10-10 in the West, and seven of those wins are against teams under .500.
"You look at the other side, and any team in the playoff hunt in the West would be the third-best team in the East right now," Curry said. "It's the NBA and you can never sleep on any team, but looking at the way teams are playing, the West is tougher."
"It is unbelievable, a lot of very good basketball teams," Jackson said. "It's going to be a tough race the entire year. We're going to be beating each other up the entire way. But I think it says a lot about the quality of teams and coaches in the Western Conference."
If there's an upside, the Warriors have played only four of 30 scheduled games against Eastern Conference teams, and they are 3-1 in those games. They were 19-11 against the East last season.
"You're going to turn the basketball over, but the ones we can't accept are the careless ones, the ones that are unforced," the coach said. "That creates a problem, because our defense was very good (against Houston), but we gave them too many transition points. We're creating offense for teams that are struggling to score, and it hurts us."
The Warriors are third in the league in turnovers committed at 17.7 per game, and Curry leads all qualifying NBA players with 4.1 turnovers per contest.
"It's something that's plagued us all year, and we're focused on trying to change it," Curry said. "As time goes on, we're going to figure it out, because we're going to have to if we're going to make a run."
Warriors (13-11) at Phoenix (13-9), 5 p.m. CSNBA