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Clippers vs. Suns - Game Preview and Open Thread

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LA Clippers logo
vs
Suns logo
9-17 19-9
Staples Center
Dec. 27, 2007 - 7:30 PM
Probable starters:
Sam Cassell PG Steve Nash
Quinton Ross SG Raja Bell
Corey Maggette SF Grant Hill
Al Thornton PF Shawn Marion
Chris Kaman C Amare Stoudemire
The Big Picture:

This is probably the last preview for awhile, depending on what I find for connectivity when I get to Tahoe tomorrow.  As for the game... it's two days after Christmas, and the Clippers haven't won a home game since the day before Thanksgiving.  And Thanksgiving came early this year.  That's a lot of turkey between home wins.  They've also lost 4 in a row and 13 of 16.  BUT... they should have a reasonably healthy Sam Cassell for the first time in over a month after Sammy successfully tested his calf muscle for 9 minutes against the Spurs last game.  The Clippers have won 55% of their games with Sam Cassell since he's been in LA - and lost 65% of their games without him.  I'm not saying they're going to beat Phoenix, but he is important.

The Antagonist:

The Suns are slumping.  At least it's what passes for a slump in Phoenix the last few years.  After starting the season 16-4, they've lost 5 of their last 8 to drop to 19-9, and are only a single game ahead of the Lakers in the Pacific Division at this point.  Talented but paper thin for the last three seasons, this summer the Suns got more talented with the addition of Grant Hill - and thinner with the losses of Kurt Thomas and James Jones.   But they remain a dangerous team; they play at the league's 4th highest pace with the second most efficient offense which adds up to the highest scoring team in the NBA.  Steve Nash is a two time league MVP.  Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion have been chosen to multiple All-Star / All-Pro teams.  Grant Hill is a former All-Pro.  Leandro Barbosa is the defending Sixth Man of the Year.  Boris Diaw is a unique talent.  Raja Bell is a top defender and three point shooter.  They spread the floor, penetrate and kick, and run and shoot.  These guys are good.

The Subplots

  • Big trouble.  Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic observes that the Suns have been getting lit up by bigs lately (hat tip to TrueHoop).  Andrew Bynum and Al Jefferson have each gotten career highs against Phoenix in recent Suns losses.  Chris Kaman is having a career year, going into a game against a team giving up career games to rival bigs.  His mouth should be watering.  Amare Stoudemire is not huge, nor is he a great low post defender.  If Kaman can read the Suns double teams effectively, he could (should?) have a big game.
  • Familiarity breeds....  The Clippers have had more success against the Suns in recent years than against any other top team in the NBA.  Of course that success came with a healthy Elton Brand, but still.  The Clippers' defensive game plan has on occasion effectively slowed the Suns - Quinton Ross plays Steve Nash about as effectively as anyone in the NBA.  If Kaman can fill the Brand role (scoring 30+ points) and the defensive game plan works in limiting the Suns' fast break opportunities, the Clippers might have a chance.
  • A couple starters return, and one sits out.  Cassell should be ready to play real minutes tonight, and Corey Maggette will return after missing the last game with a sore knee.  On the other hand, Tim Thomas will probably sit out with a sore knee, although an MRI revealed no structural damage.  On the bright side, MDsr is in a position to play his most talented Generic Clippers team - Cassell, Cat Mobley, Maggette, Al Thornton and Kaman.
  • No biggies.  The Clippers will play with essentially two bigs for the back-to-backs with the Suns - Kaman and Josh Powell.  Brand is out of course, Paul Davis is out for the season, Thomas is probably out with the sore knee and Aaron Williams is probably out with a strained wrist.  Still, if you have to play any team without bigs, you'd probably pick the Suns.  Thornton and Maggette will get the bulk of the minutes at the 4, opposite Shawn Marion.  (Interestingly, Thornton's quick second jump reminds me of Marion.)
  • Is Al ready for his closeup?  Thornton will get plenty of minutes in these two games to try to follow up his career high performance against the Suns.  This figures to be a real learning experience for Al, particularly on the defensive end.  If you miss an assignment or a rotation against the Suns, they'll make you pay for it.  And they might make you look silly in the process.  It will be a good test of where he is in his development.
  • Lineup and rotation questions.  The Clippers injuries have been something of a constant this season, but they've hit different positions at different times.  There were games in late November where the team did not have a completely healthy guard.  Now the guards are relatively healthy (and there's even a new one in Richie Frahm) but it's the power forward position that's devastated.  With a sudden surfeit of guards what will MDsr do?  Who will start?  He could go with Cassell and Ross (the playoff tandem against the Suns in 06); he could go with the veterans Cassell and Mobley; he could go with Knight and Mobley and bring Cassell off the bench in his return from injury.  I'm betting he goes with Cassell (who needs to be on the floor) and Ross (to start off on Nash).  The other thing to watch is the minutes distribution for Knight and Dickau.  Knight started every game while Cassell was out, but Dickau was frankly better.  In fact, Dickau has been the Clippers 3rd best player in December (sad, but true).  So does he return to the end of the bench?  Or does he take minutes away from Knight?  I know who I'd go with at this point.
  • Run it back.  These same two teams meet again, about 20 hours after this game ends and then again on Jan. 15.  Meaning Elton Brand will not play against the Suns this season.
  • Guest recapper. Since I will neither see the game nor have access to post a recap, Citizen mp will be providing a recap in the Diaries section. Thanks.