Phoenix Suns want 16th straight home win for Christmas. Golden State Warriors are in the way.

PHOENIX – The last time the Phoenix Suns played on Christmas Day more than a decade ago, Steve Kerr was the team’s president of basketball operations and general manager.

A lot has changed since 2009.

Kerr is the head coach of the Golden State Warriors and the recently appointed USA men’s basketball coach, who named Suns’ coach Monty Williams as an assistant coach.

“To have your peers pick you is an honor,” Williams said. “Sometimes you get caught up in the competition of what we do. We’ve had some really emotional battles with (the Warriors), but I was humbled and honored that (Kerr) asked me to be on the staff.”

On Saturday, however, it’s business as usual.

Williams’ Suns (25-5) will go up against Kerr’s Warriors (26-6) on Christmas Day, the marquee match-up in the league’s five-game holiday lineup that has otherwise been ravaged with COVID-19 personnel issues. (ABC, 5 p.m. ET)

It marks the third match-up between the top two teams in the Western Conference, if not the entire league, in less than a month. The Suns won one in Phoenix and the Warriors picked up the rematch at home, effectively snapping the Suns’ 18-game win streak. The Suns are now defending a new run: They have won 15-straight home games.

“This is our game to settle it. We are tied up,” Deandre Ayton said, adding that it’s “going to be a great one.” Chris Paul said the match-up is a “good test for us.”

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Nov 30, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) talk into their hand at Footprint Center on Nov. 30.

Christmas will be the biggest game this season for both teams, because a leg up in the regular season series could serve as a critical tiebreaker if the Suns and Warriors tied for the top record in the West. They meet again for the last time this season in March.

Paul compared the intensity of playing Golden State to a playoff game, and he expects Saturday to be the same. It could even be a preview of the Western Conference Finals.

“When you play the elite teams in the league, just playing isn’t enough. You got to be a lot more cerebral,” Paul said. “Playing against Golden State, they make you think.”

Ayton is thinking about the opportunity of playing on Christmas Day, an honor bestowed upon the league’s elite. This will mark his first Christmas Day game.

“I should thank the NBA for gifting me with a Christmas gift of playing on Christmas Day,” he said. “I got kids waking up to go see Deandre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns play. It’s an honor. You can’t take that for granted. Stuff like that is just hard work. People recognizing us, just winning and this is the reward.”

Winning is something that the Suns have been doing a lot of as of late, but recognition has not always come with it. Many questioned the validity of Phoenix’s run to the NBA Finals last season after a dismal 1-3 start this season. The defending Western Conference champs answered back with the franchise’s longest win streak: 18 games.

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Devin Booker and the Suns have split two games with Steph Curry and the Warriors so far this season.

Devin Booker and the Suns have split two games with Steph Curry and the Warriors so far this season.

Phoenix’s “No loss November,” as Devin Booker dubbed it, didn’t come without controversy. The NBA launched an investigation into Suns team owner Robert Sarver in November in response to an ESPN article detailing allegations of racism and misogyny that created a “toxic” work environment.

While many wondered if the drama surrounding the investigation would cause a distraction for the players and bleed onto the court, the Suns once again proved everyone wrong, thanks to the leadership of Monty.

“He’s the best at that, at managing situations, controlling the room and keeping people focused forward,” Booker said. “That’s what he’s done with our team, we’ve talked about it as a team. You can feel everything he says. We’re sticking behind him and we’re going to keep playing hard for him and winning basketball games.”

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The record streak didn’t come without challenges or injuries. The Suns came out with an impressive 104-96 win against the Warriors during their first match-up on Nov. 30 after Devin Booker left the first half of the game with a hamstring injury. Booker was sidelined seven subsequent games.

The Suns’ 18-game win streak ended days later at the hands of Stephen Curry and the Warriors, who beat Phoenix in a 118-96 blowout on the Dec. 3 rematch at Chase Center.

“It’s been a long time since we felt a loss, but hell, let’s start a new one,” Paul said.

The Suns have another streak they will be defending when the Warriors come to town. They are 15-0 at home this season after losing their first two games.

What makes them so good at home? Phoenix has the No. 2 ranked defense and the No. 2 ranked offense in the league, second only to the Warriors in both categories.

They have their work cut out for them. Williams said the Suns will have to bring high-energy Saturday to compete with the Warriors. “They play hard. They don’t stop. They just keep coming after you,” Williams said of their opponent.

The Suns and the Warriors play Saturday at 5 p.m. ET on ABC.

Phoenix has a 12-6 Christmas Day record, while the Warriors are 13-17.

The Warriors went from missing the playoffs for the second season in a row after finishing 39-33 last year to becoming a contender not even at full strength. They will soon add Klay Thompson back to the roster after he missed the last two seasons due to injury, although Thompson isn’t expected to play in the Christmas Day game.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Phoenix Suns defend home win streak in Warriors showdown