Clippers Vs. Suns - Game Preview - Can the Clippers Win Three Straight?

Mar. 2, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard (13) Steve Nash controls the ball against Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul in the second half at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Clippers 81-78. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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28-21

25-25
STAPLES Center
March 28th, 2012, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Steve Nash
Randy Foye SG Jared Dudley
Caron Butler
SF Grant Hill
Blake Griffin
PF Channing Frye
DeAndre Jordan
C Marcin Gortat

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

With just 17 games left in the Clippers season, every game counts. This one counts at least double. The Clippers are looking for their third win in a row, which would be their first three game winning streak since the first week of February. They're also looking to beat the Suns for the first time this season. And given that the Suns are currently in tenth place in the West, the Clippers need to win this one as much to knock the Suns further down the standings as to move the Clippers up. The playoffs are a zero sum game -- and the Suns are one of the hottest teams in the West right now. If they move into the playoff picture, another team has to move out. Distancing themselves from the Suns is critical to the Clippers now. Not to mention that a loss to Phoenix tonight would give the Suns the season series -- the Clippers can still salvage a series tie with a win of their own and another win in Phoenix in April. The good news is that the Clippers have looked better in the last two days than they have looked in about six weeks. The bad news is that they have played probably their worst basketball of the season against Phoenix in their two meetings. They need to keep the good momentum going and stop the futility against Phoenix tonight.

The Antagonist:

The Suns were 12-19 after a loss to the Lakers on February 17 -- and frankly, that felt about right for a team with aging stars, that missed the playoffs last season and didn't really help themselves during the off-season. Since then, they've gone 13-6, and are now just two games behind Denver and Houston for the final playoff spot in the West. During that 13-6 stretch, they've twice beaten the Clippers -- and have done so more or less without any help from Steve Nash. Nash was 1-4, with 6 points, 6 assists and 7 turnovers in the first meeting -- and didn't play at all in the second. Usually the Suns do not win without a major contribution from Nash, but the Clippers have managed to lose twice. A win tonight and the Suns can clinch the season series with the Clippers and move a step closer to the playoffs -- but one presumes that the Clippers will be hyper-motivated against them after two embarrassing performances this season. The Suns lost to the Spurs last night while the Clippers had the night off, so that definitely favors L.A., especially given the potential for tired legs with Nash and Grant Hill, two of the five oldest players in the league.

The Subplots

  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper. Citizen Rice Krispy 10.
  • The Questionable Blogger. For this one, we crowd sourced the questions. The goodly citizens of Clips Nation submitted questions for Seth from Bright Side of the Sun to answer, while members of that community submitted questions for me to answer. The results were spectacular.
  • Key Suns Metrics
    Pace: 92.1 (10th of 30 NBA Teams)
    Off Rtg: 105.3 (12th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.9 (20th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics
    Pace: 89.0 (29th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 107.8 (6th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 106.0 (22nd of 30)
  • Clips Nation Night -- And Hoops at STAPLES Center! Tonight's the night! After the game, we'll have access to the STAPLES Center court for about an hour to play some hoops. Remember, there are three places/times you can meet: (1) at ESPNZone at 4 (look for me in my Livingston Clippers jersey); (2) at the 11th Street entrance to STAPLES at 5:45 -- from there we'll go to a meeting room in STAPLES to hang out before the game starts; (3) at section 11 after the game. Bring your shoes (non-marking soles!) and two T-Shirts, one dark and one light. See you there!
  • Let's go streaking. It's been almost two months since the Clippers have strung together three wins in a row. That needs to end tonight. With consecutive double digit home wins, the Clippers seem to be building a little momentum, and that needs to keep going tonight.
  • The standings. This idea of checking the playoff race in late March is a little foreign to me. It's been five years since it mattered here. The Clippers are currently percentage points ahead of Dallas for fourth place, 2.5 games behind the Lakers. Memphis, Utah, Denver and Houston are next, followed by the 10th place Suns. The Rockets may have lost Kyle Lowry for the season -- no one's sure when he'll be back from his bacterial infection -- and Kevin Martin has been out for 9 games, and they just found out he has a torn labrum, so all things considered, it's amazing the Rockets are still in contention at all. Denver's Danilo Gallinari is out with a broken thumb, but they just got a huge win over Chicago Monday. Utah and Phoenix have been hot. Denver is at Toronto, Utah is at Boston and San Antonio is at Sacramento tonight. Dallas is at Miami and Oklahoma City at the Lakers tomorrow night.
  • Every 13 Days. This will be the third meeting between the Clippers and Suns this month -- they've played every 13 days, on March 2nd, March 15th and now March 28th. So there's that.
  • Two teams LAC can't beat. There are only two teams in the NBA whom the Clippers have played more than once without a win -- they're 0-2 against the Suns, 0-3 against the Timberwolves. Ignoring all the other symptoms of malaise in the Clippers season, that 0-5 record against Phoenix and Minnesota is a killer. Change that to 3-2 as you would hope even in the worst case scenario (three of the losses have come in L.A., after all) and the Clippers are 31-18 and leading the Pacific Division right now.
  • Two terrible losses. I wish I had nice things to say about the Suns from their two wins over the Clippers, I really do. But they weren't particularly impressive -- the Clippers were simply terrible in both of those games. In both games the Clippers lost double digit leads. In the first one, they dug a huge hole in the third quarter, then fought furiously to dig out of it in the fourth, but came up short. In the second, they did the opposite -- went into the fourth with an 11 point lead, and then fell apart, getting outscored 27-12. Certainly the Suns played with more purpose and intensity than the Clippers -- but that's saying basically nothing.
  • Point guard battle. We're still waiting for the great point guard battle between Chris Paul and Steve Nash. In their first meeting this season, Paul had a bad game, and Steve Nash had a terrible game. In the second, Nash didn't play at all, and Paul instead squared off against former Clipper Sebastian Telfair -- who stole the ball from CP3 on a crucial fourth quarter possession.
  • Williams, Foye, Young and Bledsoe. The Clippers know that they have to play Chris Paul to be successful. It's a little less clear with their other four guards. Mo Williams is out for a couple of weeks with a sprained big toe. Without Mo, Vinny Del Negro has been starting Randy Foye once again, and bringing Nick Young off the bench. Williams absence also frees up minutes for Eric Bledsoe, who has been a defensive demon at times this season, but was completely out of control at the end of Monday's win over the Hornets. Against the Suns you can probably expect to see some of the three guard lineup with Young at small forward as well -- but watch out for Jared Dudley posting up against Foye when the starters are out there.
  • Clipper starters rested. With the Clippers bench stepping up big time last night, the starters played significantly fewer minutes than usual. Chris Paul logged only 31 minutes and Blake Griffin 33.
  • Griffin. After struggling in the first meeting, making just 6 of 19 shots, Griffin had a big game in the second -- but disappeared late (along with the rest of the team). Griffin was 12 for 18 for 25 points, but was just 1-4 with 1 rebound in the fourth. He was also 1-4 from the line in the game.
  • Speaking of the line. Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry choose to put Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the line during three fourth quarter possessions. It didn't really pay off -- the Clippers scored 4 points on those three possessions, and only scored 12 points the whole quarter -- but I think we can assume that if Gentry is behind in the fourth quarter he'll use the strategy again.
  • Coaching connections. Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry of the Suns was the Clippers coach for the better part of three seasons from 2000 to 2003. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro finished his playing career in Phoenix in 2001 (he was traded to the Clippers a couple weeks into the 01-02 season and subsequently waived). Vinny then moved into the Phoenix front office, first as the director of player personnel, and then as assistant GM, before taking the head coaching job in Chicago in 2008. Clippers assistant Marc Iavaroni was an assistant to Mike D'Antoni during the 'Seven Seconds or Less' days in Phoenix. Iavaroni might well have gotten the Suns head job had he not left to coach the Grizzlies in 2007. A year later D'Antoni was out in Phoenix, and Gentry took over for Terry Porter during the next season.
  • Pick and roll defense. This game may be decided by which team does a better job of defending the pick and roll. With Steve Nash on one side and Chris Paul on the other, both teams have offenses that consist almost exclusively of picking and rolling. Don't be surprised if Kenyon Martin gets a lot of burn in place of DeAndre Jordan because of his superior defense against the P/R.
  • Setting Suns. In addition to Nash, the Suns also start 39 year old Grant Hill, the second oldest player in the league. The rest of the team is relatively young -- Michael Redd, recently signed and little used, is the only other player on the roster over 30. But Nash means everything to the team, and Hill is an important piece as well, and while the rest of the roster may not be old, they're also not that good. But because of the potential wear and tear on these NBA senior citizens, it's possible that Alvin Gentry will choose to rest Nash and Hill tonight.
  • Pacific Division Standings. The Clippers have never won the Pacific Division in the 34 seasons since they moved from Buffalo to California. We know that the Lakers have won most of those division titles, but the Suns have been near the top of the division almost the entire time as well. In fact, in those 34 seasons, the Clippers have finished with a better record than the Suns just once -- the Clippers have finished ahead of the Lakers four times. So to be looking down in the standings at the Suns is actually a more rare occurrence than to be ahead of the Lakers (which the Clippers aren't anymore, but there's still time).
  • From the Urban Dictionary:
    s.u.n.

    If someone says something indicating the conversation is going somewhere you don't wanna go to in public, say s.u.n to keep them from going further

    Him on her FB wall: Maybe we could hook up this weekend?

    Her: S.U.N
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