If you were to look at the game directly prior to the All Star break (home against the Hawks) and the game after (home against the Suns), and predict that the Clippers split the two, you'd probably be thinking W-L. If, somehow, they were to go L-W, that would be fine too. In fact, it would be better than fine. It's still a split, but you get the W against the division rival, you start the post All Star break push the right way - seriously, if you beat the Suns, it wouldn't even matter that you lost to the Hawks.
I'm just saying is all.
Not that the Clippers are going to beat the Suns, but wouldn't it be sweet? It wasn't that long ago that it happened with some regularity. Wouldn't it just be great if suddenly the team that was competitive against Phoenix all season last year (and is 1-1 this year) suddenly showed up tonight in Staples? Wouldn't a +20 rebound margin look good in the box score? Wouldn't a 40 point night from Elton Brand, or 25 points on 8 shots from Corey Maggette, or 15 rebounds from Chris Kaman be dreamy? I remember it like it was just last May.
The Clippers first game after the All Star break is indeed against the team with the second best record in the NBA. As it happens, the Suns took a three game losing streak into the break, but all those games were without Steve Nash, who figures to be back tonight. Given Mike D'Antoni's second half goal of 'a healthy Steve Nash' you shouldn't expect to see him for more than 20 minutes or so, but that will be more than the Clippers want to see him. Boris Diaw was also ought before the break and is NOT expected back tonight (he did not practice yesterday), but the good news for the Suns is that Kurt Thomas is supposed to be back after an extended absence.
On the Clippers side, Elton Brand has had 9 days off to treat his back spasms and generally rest up. You'd better hope he's back tonight, and all the way back for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, Cuttino Mobley pulled his groin muscle in the Hawks game and is doubtful tonight. Cat had been the hottest Clipper in their last few games.
More than their bodies, one wonders about the Clipper players' heads as the season starts back up. Something has not been right with this team, and you just have to wonder if they can find the rhythm they were in last year. The All Star break is arbitrary and contrived, but I suppose it's as good a time as any to figure things out. Did anybody consider a mini-training camp, since apparently all the team's troubles stem from those pesky two-a-days we missed four months ago sitting in Moscow traffic?
The Suns present more matchup problems than any team in the league. But with Diaw out and Thomas a likely insertion into the starting lineup in his place, MDsr will probably stick with Brand and Chris Kaman as his bigs, rather than starting Tim Thomas over Kaman as he did in the first two Suns games. Quentin Ross will start and draw either Nash or Barbosa (whoever starts for the Suns), and Cassell will likely guard Bell. Who knows what he'll do with Mobley's spot. Thomas, Maggette or Livingston will be the fifth starter, and will be on Marion. I'd pick Maggette, but my money is on anyone else.
Of course it won't be long before Barbosa comes in for Thomas and then all bets are off. Don't be surprised if Daniel Ewing gets some burn tonight.
It will be especially interesting to see how many minutes Corey gets. Quick shots on offense and poor rotations on defense are manna from heaven for the Suns, which would make Corey their Moses (I supposes). But by the same token, he's had some huge games against them and could really punish them on the offensive end. More than anything, it will be a question of how badly the relationship between Corey and MDsr has deteriorated - with no Cat, and no Doug Christie, how can he NOT play Corey? He's resourceful - he'll find a way.