PHOENIX — Playing on Christmas Day is considered a privilege in the NBA. The games feature the best matchups, the viewership is massive, the history is star-studded.
For a newbie, the thought of such a primo game against top competition is exhilarating. For a veteran on one of the league's top clubs, maybe not so much, as Draymond Green made clear after the Warriors' 113-104 win over the Grizzlies on Thursday at Chase Center.
"It's kind of f—d up," Green said, when asked about Golden State playing at Phoenix on Saturday, the team's second road game on Christmas in as many seasons. "But it's the reality. That's what we're faced with. I have a job, you have to do your job."
Green's youngest daughter is 2, and he will be missing Christmas with her yet again. "I can't explain that to her," he said. "It sucks. I mean, we're not robots, we're not machines. We are actually human beings with actual feelings with actual families."
Head coach Steve Kerr suggested that the league consider giving perennial Christmas participants at least a little bit of a break, saying, "It's tough being on the road for Christmas, but it's part of being in the NBA. It is an honor to play on Christmas. It's a showcase and everybody's watching. I do think there should be a rule in the NBA that you can't be on the road two years in a row. Just making that clear, because last year, we're in Milwaukee and this year we'll be in Phoenix and that doesn't seem right.
"But I'm confident that next year we will be at home for Christmas," Kerr added with a smile, "or we will all protest and not show up."
This is the Warriors' ninth consecutive Christmas date (they're 4-4 in the past eight), and Stephen Curry knows the drill. He's OK with playing on the holiday — he noted that last year's game at Milwaukee was in part because of the abbreviated scheduled following the NBA bubble, so he was more understanding of the back-to-back road Christmas games. It's just that he doesn't play all that well in these affairs, averaging 13.1 points per game and shooting 30.2 percent.
That's largely because Curry scored four points in each of his first two such games; last season, he scored 19 in the Warriors' loss to the Bucks.
"I like it because it means you're one of the marquee teams; they're very selective about who they put in those slots," Curry said. "I personally don't like it because I haven't played well. I've struggled a lot on Christmas for whatever reason, so I'm trying to rectify that on Saturday."
Gary Payton II, coming off a season-high 22 points Thursday, is delighted at the prospect of playing. "It's going to be a fun day," he said. "It's my first Christmas game, so I'm excited and ready to compete."
The Suns haven't played on Christmas since 2010 and they have zero complaints.
"Watching NBA games every Christmas since I was a little kid, the opportunity to go and play in that game ... It's like a dream come true," forward Cameron Johnson told reporters via Zoom after the Suns' win over Oklahoma City on Thursday.
"I'm not going to lie, I feel like I should thank the NBA for giving me a Christmas gift of playing on Christmas Day," Phoenix center Deandre Ayton said. "People recognizing us, just winning and stuff like that, this is the reward."
Payton described Thursday's victory over a tough Memphis team — and with the Warriors down three of their top five scorers because of health-and-safety protocols — as "good momentum" going into Phoenix, where the Suns hold the league's top record, at 26-5.
Golden State is right on their heels at 26-6, creating "a hell of a matchup," Kerr said. As of Friday, Phoenix had no players unavailable because health and safety protocols, but the Warriors are missing Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins and Damion Lee because of the protocols, while Andre Iguodala has been out with knee swelling. Numerous contributions against the Grizzlies on Thursday — 11 of the team's 19 three-pointers came from the not-Stephs on the roster — reinforced that Golden State can win while short-handed.
"With so many guys down, it's easy to have slippage," Green said. "To get this win, heading out on the road against a really good Phoenix team on Christmas day, it's definitely a momentum game for us, and we can carry this on. ... Just to build a little familiarity and most importantly, to know that we can do it and there's ways to get it done, I think that was big."
Susan Slusser is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @susanslusser
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