Clippers-Suns preview: Now or never

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers are two back in the loss column for home court advantage in the playoffs. Five of their final seven games are against sub-.500 teams beginning tonight with the Suns, so they have to make a push now if they want to regain the home court.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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49-26

23-51
April 3rd, 2013, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Tickets, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Goran Dragic
Willie Green SG Jared Dudley
Caron Butler SF Wesley Johnson
Blake Griffin PF Markieff Morris
DeAndre Jordan C Luis Scola
Advanced Stats through games of April 2
91.2 (18th of 30) Pace 93.1 (10th of 30)
110.1 (5th of 30) ORtg 100.8 (28th of 30)
103.5 (8th of 30) DRtg 107.7 (22nd of 30)
Injuries
Chauncey Billups (groin) out
Channing Frye (heart) out


Marcin Gortat (foot) out


P.J. Tucker (knee) questionable

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have decided to go into a funk at an inopportune time. Four losses in five games in late March/early April is a good way to lose home court advantage in the playoffs, which is what the Clippers appear to be doing. As of now the Clippers trail both the Nuggets and the Grizzlies by two games in the loss column, and with seven games remaining they need to catch at least one of those teams to avoid opening the playoffs on the road. The good news for the Clippers is that five of their remaining seven games are against teams with losing records. The bad news is that they still need to show up and win them. In Houston against a Rockets team playing without James Harden and Monday night in L.A. against the Pacers, the Clippers starters didn't show up. It's now or never guys -- as I pointed out, the team more or less needs to go undefeated these final seven games if they want to catch the Grizz and/or the Nuggets. It's not an unrealistic goal given their soft schedule, but they still have to play well. It stats with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Paul was 2-12 against the Pacers and Griffin has been in a slump for about two weeks, partly owing to a sore calf muscle. Regardless, those guys have to play like stars and everything else will fall into place.

The Antagonist:

The Clippers are playing some bad teams down the stretch, but none is worse than the Suns. Phoenix seems to have embraced the concept of tanking for ping pong balls more fully than the other teams near the bottom of the Western Conference. Last week the Suns gave a healthy Goran Dragic the night off so they could get an extended look at rookie point guards Kendall Marshall and Diante Garrett. Dragic is one of the Suns best players -- and it's not like they have a lot of them. Sitting him is a pretty plain admission that wins no longer matter. Center Marcin Gortat is out with a sore foot, leaving the Suns with a collection of unproven youngsters and veteran castoffs. The Suns managed to beat a Paul-less Clippers team back in January -- that's good news if it motivates the Clippers to show up and seek revenge. But the Suns have lost six straight and 10 of their last 11 and haven't shown much interest themselves in winning games lately.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. How sad that the Phoenix franchise of 7 seconds or less and before that Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers is currently 28th in the league in offensive efficiency.
  • Griffin's slump. Blake Griffin has failed to collect double digit rebounds in eight straight games. That is the longest streak without 10 or more rebounds of Griffin's young career. Clearly he's being bothered by the calf, but the bad news is that he seems to be allowing it to affect his effort. Because rebounding is really about hard work, and right now Griffin is not putting it in. Lately he's been standing and watching when shots have gone up, allowing his man to crash the boards without boxing out. Calf injury or no calf injury, he needs to work harder on the boards.
  • The Morris twins. Back in the day, the Suns reunited twins Tom and Dick Van Arsdale in Phoenix for a season. In recent years, the team has made a habit of employing the less talented half of many NBA brother tandems, including Robin Lopez, Jaron Collins and Blake's big brother Taylor Griffin. At the trade deadline, they acquired Marcus Morris from Phoenix to pair him with his twin bother Markieff in Phoenix. Why they thought that was a good idea is anybody's guess. They're both shooting 40% from the field, which is identically bad.
  • 14 points per game. The Suns leading scorer this season is Dragic at 14.5 points per game. There are 62 NBA players averaging more than that, at least one from every other team. Several teams have four 14 point per game scorers. The Clippers have three players averaging at least 16 points per game. The Suns have zero star power, and you can't win in the NBA without it.
  • Three point shooting. Phoenix, a team that for years was built on shooting, is 29th in the league in three point percentage and 27th in three pointers made. The Clippers have been vulnerable to the three point shot this season, but this Suns team does not appear to be the one to exploit their perimeter defense.
  • Milestones. The Clippers are still looking to secure their first-ever 50 win season. Their next win, whenever it happens, gives it to them. They've come up empty in three straight. Surely tonight is the night.
  • Connections. Grant Hill 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. The Suns recently fired 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:

    Why Does the Sun Really Shine -- They Might Be Giants

    The sun is a miasma or incandescent plasma
    The sun's not simply made out of gas, no, no, no
    The sun is a quagmire, it's not made of fire
    Forget what you've been told in the past

    After recording eclectic music for 20 years or so, They Might Be Giants have released a series of kids albums in recent years. It started with a small album called No! which was followed by Here Come the ABC's, Here Come the 123's and most recently Here Comes Science. Coincidentally, they had recorded a song called Why Does the Sun Shine back in the day, before they were actively writing songs for kids ("The sun is a mass of incandescent gas"), but it turns out that the science in that song was later proven wrong. So they updated the song for the Here Comes Science album. The new song contains the line "I forget what I was told by myself", which is pretty funny. I do love the Johns ever so much.
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