Clippers-Suns preview: Why stop now?

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers have won a franchise record 12 in a row. Each additional win sets a new record now, and a win against the Suns this afternoon would have the added bonus of ending a string of 10 straight losses in Phoenix.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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20-6

11-16
December 23rd, 2012, 6:00 PM 5:00 PM
US Airways Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Goran Dragic
Willie Green SG Shannon Brown
Caron Butler SF Jared Dudley
Blake Griffin PF Luis Scola
DeAndre Jordan C Marcin Gortat
Advanced Stats through games of Dec. 22
91.5 (18th of 30) Pace 92.1 (14th of 30)
110.1 (4th of 30) ORtg 105.3 (12th of 30)
100.4 (3rd of 30) DRtg 108.2 (26th of 30)
Injuries
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Channing Frye (enlarged heart) out
Grant Hill (knee) out

Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have the longest active winning streak in the NBA and another win today would give them the longest streak in the entire NBA this season. If extending the win streak to 13 is not enough motivation, there's also this -- they've lost 10 straight to the Suns in Phoenix. Hopefully someone has pointed that fact out to Chris Paul, as CP3 has made it a habit of ending these sorts of team specific futility records. In addition to 12 straight wins overall, the Clippers have won five straight on the road, and a win this afternoon would set yet another franchise mark of six straight road wins (once again breaking the record of the 74-75 Braves). The Clippers did not play their best on Friday against the Kings and for once had to be carried by their stars. The depth on the roster has been great all season, but it's also nice to be able to fall back on guys like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin when nothing else is working. In the first meeting, the Clippers let the Suns hang around longer than they should have, but dominated the fourth quarter to pull away.

The Antagonist:

When these teams met back on December 8th, the Suns were reeling, losing their fifth in a row to L.A. and eventually dropping six straight. They've made some shake ups in the rotations, and recently won four straight before losing last night in Portland. Michael Beasley has been benched in favor of Jared Dudley, and veteran Luis Scola is back in the starting lineup. The Suns recently beat the Grizzlies in Phoenix, so they are fully capable of beating good teams, and they always seem to play their best against the Clippers. The Suns have six players averaging double figures -- but no one averaging as much as 15. In a league driven by superstars, that's not a good thing.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers are now up to third best in defensive efficiency in the NBA. After being below average all last season (and near the bottom of the league for much of the season) this defensive improvement is easily the most significant change in this Clippers team. Phoenix on the other hand is near the bottom of the league defensively.
  • Clippers lapping the field. The Clippers current winning streak has been going on so long that they're starting to see teams for a second time during the streak. They've already got two wins over the Kings since their last loss -- today they have a chance to get their second win over the Suns.
  • Schedule turning tougher. We all know that the Clippers schedule has been soft during the 12 game win streak. Including the Suns today, only three of the last 13 opponents currently have a winning record -- and that includes the Timberwolves, who hadn't yet gotten Ricky Rubio back when the Clippers faced them. But starting after this one, things get a little tougher. The next eight games starting on Christmas Day include two games each against the Nuggets, Jazz and Warriors, with the Celtics and Lakers thrown in for good measure. Oh, and that includes three back to backs. Keeping a winning streak alive through that stretch will be difficult to impossible.
  • Inverted Pacific Division. For a decade or more, the Pacific Division always featured the Lakers and the Suns and to a lesser extent the Kings at the top and going to the playoffs every year, with the Clippers and the Warriors bringing up the rear and heading to the lottery. It's too early to count anyway out (and certainly not the Lakers) but right now the Division standings are almost completely upside down from what we're used to. The Clippers lead the division at 20-6, with the Warriors in second at 18-10 (the Clippers can expand their division lead to 3.5 games with a win today). Meanwhile the Lakers, Suns and Kings are all below .500 and currently out of playoff position. If I recall correctly, last season was the first time -- EVER -- that the Clippers actually finished ahead of the Suns in the division standings. Amazing.
  • Suns at home. The Suns may be just 11-16 overall, but they're 9-5 at home, with wins over Denver, Memphis and Utah. The Clippers will have to be focused to keep the winning streak alive.
  • Gortat. When the Suns traded for Marcin Gortat a couple of season ago it was an interesting gamble on a promising center who had not gotten enough minutes in Orlando playing behind Dwight Howard. Last season in his first full season with the Suns, Gortat averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game while making .555 from the field and looked like one of the best centers in the league. This year he's down to 11 points and 8 rebounds. It would be the first time that a big man's productivity dropped off when he lost Steve Nash as a teammate of course, but the Suns have got to be disappointed with Gortat so far this season. They thought they had a center to build around, and now they're not so sure.
  • Pick and roll. The Suns will run a ton of pick and roll today with Dragic and Gortat. The Clippers have been better defending the pick and roll this season, but will need to be ready for it. If DeAndre Jordan struggles on defense you can probably expect Vinny Del Negro to use an early hook and get Lamar Odom in the game.
  • Jordan on defense. This game will present DeAndre Jordan with several different defensive challenges depending on who the Suns run out there. If it's Gortat, he'll have to defend the Gortat-Dragic pick and roll. If he ends up on Scola, he'll have to deal with the bizarre array of post moves (fakes, pivots, spins, flips, scoops and other things that defy description) that the crafty Argentine will throw at him while also staying up on his face up jumper. If he has to check Markieff Morris, he'll have to pursue him out to the three point line where the stretch four is shooting .356 this season. It's going to be a good challenge for DJ who needs to stay disciplined and remember the scouting report for all of these guys.
  • Revenge. The Suns were one of only two teams to beat the Clippers three times last season (Minnesota was the other). In fact, the Suns have really had the Clippers number in recent years, having won 17 of the last 21 meetings. Even after the Suns ceased being an elite team they've still been beating the Clippers. That needs to stop. Winning in L.A. two weeks ago was fine, but beating them in Phoenix would really feel good.
  • Connections. Grant Hill (who has yet to play a game as a Clipper) rejuvenated his career over the course of five seasons in Phoenix. Matt Barnes was Hill's teammate on the Suns for one season as well. Sebastian Telfair of the Suns was a Clipper for a half a season. Suns head coach Alvin Gentry was the Clippers head coach a decade ago, and Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro ended his playing career in Phoenix and then transitioned into a front office job there before moving to the bench in Chicago.
  • Get the Phoenix perspective at Bright Side of the Sun.
  • Lyrical reference:

    The Distance -- Cake

    The sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
    and long ago somebody left with the cup.
    but he's striving and driving and hugging the turns.
    and thinking of someone for whom he still burns.

    Cause he's going the distance.
    He's going for speed.
    She's all alone
    All alone in her time of need.


    The definitive Cake song -- and also the song I sang at karaoke on Friday night at Clipparaoke Nation Night! (You'll have to ask Citizen Ray Samora for a review.)
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