Clippers Vs. Suns - Game Preview - Going for Six in a Row

March 28, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) lands on Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry as he goes for a ball during the first half of the game at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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39-23

32-30
US Airways Center
April 19th, 2012, 7:30 PM
TNT, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Steve Nash
Randy Foye SG Shannon Brown
Caron Butler
SF Jared Dudley
Blake Griffin
PF Channing Frye
DeAndre Jordan
C Marcin Gortat

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

Am I the only one who thought last night's game in Denver would be the most difficult one remaining for the Clippers? At the risk of incurring the wrath of the reverse mojo, it feels really good to get out of Denver with a win. The Nuggets haven't been healthy very much this season, and I was worried that they might be rounding into shape at exactly the wrong time for the Clippers. The LAC did not play their best game by any means -- Chris Paul was 1 for 6 in the fourth quarter and Blake Griffin did not make a shot other than a dunk the entire game (and he missed one of those) -- and yet they came away with the win. That feels like an escape. It's hard to imagine that Paul and Griffin won't play much better tonight, and though the supporting cast was universally terrific in Denver, they had to be to make up for sub-par games from the big two. If CP3 and Blake Superior play better, then the supporting cast can be simply good, and won't have to be great. The more I look at Memphis' remaining schedule, the more ridiculous it looks, so the bottom line is that the Clippers can't by any means be counting on them to lose again. The Clippers need to take care of their own business to secure home court, and all that means at this point is at least splitting the final four. Having said that, the Lakers play in San Antonio on Friday, and the Clippers are just a half game back currently. There's a very real possibility that the Clippers could head into the weekend in first place in the Pacific Division. But that plan requires first and foremost that they win in Phoenix.

The Antagonist:

You have to hand it to the Suns. Pretty much every year for the last three or four, we've looked at their roster at the start of the season, looked at the birthday candles on Steve Nash's cake, and concluded that the Suns were lottery-bound for the foreseeable future. And they keep proving everyone wrong. They may not be winning championships, but they are always in the playoff race, which is more than anyone has expected from them in a while. When the Suns were 12-19 on February 17 it was painfully clear that they were really and truly done this time -- and here they are on the verge of the playoffs again. They actually found themselves back in the top eight in the west briefly this week before losing to Oklahoma City, and even now they are tied in the loss column with eighth place Utah (another zombie team coming back from the dead). The Suns have a nasty remaining schedule -- four games against playoff teams, including tonight against the Clippers and closing night against the Spurs. But they do get another shot at Utah, which could help them move ahead of the Jazz. But they know all too well that every single game counts, and they've done well against the Clippers this season, so you can assume that they have every intention of winning this game.

The Subplots

  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper. Yours truly. I do sometimes still write recaps, you know.
  • Key Suns Metrics
    Pace: 92.5 (9th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 106.4 (9th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 106.2 (20th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics
    Pace: 89.2 (28th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 108.5 (3rd of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.3 (14th of 30)
    The Clippers are now among the top half of NBA teams in defensive efficiency, after spending most of the season in the bottom third. This is a big part of 13 wins in 15 games of course.
  • Six in a row -- again? The Clippers went more than 20 years without experiencing a six game winning streak. Could they do it twice in the course of four weeks? How much does that say about how this edition of the team has changed the franchise's fortunes? For what it's worth, if the Clippers can win out (which is certainly a possibility, if unlikely) it would give them a nine game winning streak, the longest in their California history, and second longest in franchise history behind an 11 game streak by the Buffalo Braves in 1974.
  • Golden opportunity. One gets the impression it is now or never for catching the Lakers. A Clippers win in Phoenix, coupled with a Lakers loss in San Antonio Friday night, puts the Clippers in first place in the Pacific Division and heaps approximately a ton of pressure onto the Lakers. The Lakers loss is probably the more important piece of the puzzle, and they still have to play the Thunder on Sunday, so this isn't literally the last chance. But if the Clippers DON'T win tonight, and then the Lakers lose to the Spurs but maintain their Division lead, it will feel like a missed opportunity and may be too much to overcome. All that pressure that would have been on the purple and gold guys falls on top of the red and white guys.
  • Grant Hill. Hill hasn't played in the last two meetings between these teams. He was resting on 3/15, and then his knee was hurting on 3/28. A few days later, he had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and at the time it was feared he would miss the remainder of the season. Yet somehow he was back in uniform two weeks later, playing 25 minutes against Houston last Friday. He's played only 8 minutes in the three games since then, but is expected to play tonight. Hill is Phoenix's best defender and will likely be assigned to Chris Paul while he's out there.
  • The dunk-steal-dunk. Two of the most exciting sequences of the Clippers season have occurred in the last few weeks, following a particular pattern. I call it the dunk-steal-dunk. The Clippers invented the move against Phoenix 3/28, when Griffin dunked on Channing Frye, then combined with Paul on a breakaway alley-oop after a steal. A couple weeks later against the Kings the Clippers pulled off another dunk-steal-dunk when Bledsoe hit Griffin for an alley-oop, then got a steal and combined with Paul for an off-the-backboard jam. I like the dunk-steal-dunk. I'm ready for another one tonight.
  • Williams and Young. For the first 58 games of the season, the Clippers had Mo Williams and Nick Young together coming off the bench for exactly one game -- Young's first game as a Clipper. Vinny Del Negro tried Nick in the starting lineup for the next three games (all losses) and then Mo got hurt and missed the next 11. For the four games since Williams' return, the two have come off the bench together, and it has worked great. They've combined to score 26.5 points per game in those four games, and were instrumental in key wins over Oklahoma City and Denver. That second unit, with just one or the other of them, doesn't have enough scoring. With both of them out there, it's been an effective group, a group that got the Clippers back into the game in Denver.
  • 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 by a Suns team playing without Nash or Hill. 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. In the third meeting, Nash had 15 assists and just 1 point, while Paul had a 15/15 double double. In three games against the Clippers this season, Nash has sat out once, and scored 7 points total while shooting 1 for 8 in the other two. That seems like it can't possibly last.
  • Three point shooting. We've said all season, when the Clippers are hitting their perimeter shots they are a very tough team to beat. In particular, the Clipper wings, Randy Foye, Caron Butler, Mo Williams and Nick Young need to be stretching the floor and taking advantage of the open looks they're bound to get playing alongside Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. In the last four games, the Clippers have made 45 threes on 97 attempts, which is better than 46%. The vast majority of those threes have come from the wing spots. It's no surprise that the Clippers have won those games. They were an absurd 14-24 from deep in Denver and would have been blown out in the first half had it not been for the long ball.
  • Griffin. After struggling in the first meeting with the Suns, 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. In the third meeting he went for 27 points and 14 rebounds and came up huge in the fourth, with three dunks that sealed the game. This is what he should be doing to Channing Frye every time.
  • 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. The Clippers big rotation has more or less settled into Griffin, Jordan and Martin, with just spot minutes from Reggie Evans. Reggie was sick last night and unable to play, and may not be able to go tonight, but Martin has been playing great and provided there is no foul trouble Evans won't be missed.
  • 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 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.
  • Redd. When the Suns signed Redd, it seemed like a strange choice for both parties. The Suns weren't really going anywhere, and if Redd, coming off of two ACL/MCL injuries (that's a total of four tears to two ligaments in the same knee, folks) was going to be able to help a team, surely it would be in a limited role as a shooting specialist for a contender. But Redd has become an important part of the Suns rotation as the year as worn on, and is averaging 13 points per game in April. Good for him.
  • 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. There's still a good chance that the Clippers will overtake the Lakers and win the Division (playoffstatus.com sets the likelihood at 31% as of today). But the Clippers have already accomplished something quite rare simply by finishing ahead of the Suns.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:
    sun

    The sun is a mass of incandescent gas;
    A gigantic nuclear furnace.
    Where hydrogen is built into helium,
    At a temperature of millions of degrees.

    They Might Be Giants
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