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Clippers @ Phoenix - Game Preview

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
US Airways Center
February 17th, 2009, 6:00 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 710 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Steve Nash
Eric Gordon
SG Leandro Barbosa
Al Thornton
SF Grant Hill
Zach Randolph
PF Amare Stoudemire
Brian Skinner
C Shaquille O'Neal

The Back Story:

  • January 2, 2009, in Phoenix - Phoenix 106 - Clippers 98  Box Score  Recap
  • January 11, 2009, in LA - Phoenix 109 - Clippers 103  Box Score  Recap

The Big Picture:

After almost a week off, the rest of the season gets underway tonight in Phoenix, at the site of the All Star Game.  Eric Gordon and Al Thornton should be comfortable there, having competed in the same arena Friday night in the Rookie Challenge.  The Clippers closed with three wins in four games before the break, and I would actually say that they were on a roll, were it not for the ugly loss that was mixed in there, or all the other ugly losses that came before.  The team remains maddening difficult to evaluate.  I mean, they scored over 120 points in three of their last four games, and 73 in the other one.  That's hard to do.  MDsr's teams have always been defense first, but this team appears to be able to win when they go out and outgun people.  Baron Davis for one seems pleased - he recently said they 'don't pride themselves in their defense.'  Of course a team with 13 wins has no right to pride itself in anything.  It is clear that the team is much better with a healthy Zach Randolph.  They have a winning record with Randolph in the starting lineup.  Unfortunately, they won't have Marcus Camby, who has an ear ache and won't be playing, according to Lisa Dillman, and of course Chris Kaman is still out.  Shaq and the Suns are probably the wrong guys to come up against with two quality bigs unavailable.  I have not seen an update in a long time, but Mardy Collins must be getting close to being able to return.

The Antagonist:

This will be the first game for the Suns under their new interim coach, former Clippers head coach Alvin Gentry, who was named to replace the fired Terry Porter yesterday.  Gentry coached the Clippers for almost three seasons beginning in 2000.  In Phoenix, he's viewed as a link to the '7 seconds or less' era, as the lone holdover from Mike D'Antoni's staff.  Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire must be pleased about the change, though one wonders how Shaq feels about it.  The Suns have been on a roller coaster this season.  But lately they've been pretty bad.  They were 22-13 about a month ago, and they've gone 6-10 since.  Which explains why Terry Porter is no longer the coach.  The simple fact is, they can't decide who they are, and it's not surprising.  Since they traded Shawn Marion for Shaq last February, they've changed coaches twice, and also traded away two more key players in Boris Diaw and Raja Bell.  Gentry may want them to run and to open the lane for Nash to penetrate and Amare to operate.  But that begs he question - where do you put Shaq?  Unfortunately for the Clippers, one of the Suns' big issues has been a perceived lack of motivation - but if Gentry is indeed the replacement most of the players wanted, then that will probably not be a problem in these two games (the teams play tonight and again tomorrow in LA).  Gentry will probably at least get a honeymoon period of top level effort from his squad - lucky us.

The Subplots

  • Trade Deadline Looming.  For teams hopeful to add a front court piece for a playoff push, these are the teams on speed dial.  Stoudemire has been shopped actively by the Suns, and until yesterday it was widely believed that he would be traded away.  But if Porter is going to be the fall guy, and if Gentry wants to up the tempo, it may be that Amare will stay, at least for the rest of this season.  And the story is that teams who are unable to acquire Amare, will turn their attention to the Clippers glut of bigs.  Camby is the one every team wants, but he is apparently untouchable (Marc Stein) or nearly untouchable (Ramona Shelburne).  Chris Kaman on the other hand - touch him, feel him, kick the tires, now make an offer.  But it would appear that the Clippers are not desperate to trade him, and are willing to bide their time if they don't like any of the offers they hear.  I think there's a little Pau Gasol syndrome happening out there - teams think they can get a key player for next to nothing.  We'll see if the offers get better as the deadline approaches.
  • Richardson suspended.  Jason Richardson may be terrific driving the lane at US Airways Arena, but he's had his issues driving the lanes around Scottsdale.  He had DUI back in December, and just this week he was arrested for driving 90 in a 35 zone.  He has been suspended by the team for tonight's game.  He should be back in the lineup tomorrow night in LA.
  • Gordon and Thornton.  For what it's worth (and that would be nothing really) both Gordon and Thornton played very well in the Rookie Classic on Friday.  Gordon scored 19 points on 6 for 8 shooting, and Thornton scored 10 on 5 for 7.  Interestingly, they each did some things in the Rookie Classic that they don't usually do well - Gordon rebounded well, and Thornton set up his teammates with several nice assists.  It would be great if they would add those things to their games on something other than an exhibition-only basis.
  • Defending Shaq.  With no Camby, I'm anticipating that Brian Skinner will be inserted into the starting lineup and given the assignment of defending the Big Whatever-he-is-now-other-than-big.  It would be more fun to start Novak - he'd have to try to defend Amare (which would be a disaster) but on the other end Amare on Novak and Shaq on Randolph would be tough matchups for them.  That would be a role reversal from recent years - to try to outscore the Suns 3 for 2.  At any rate, the Clippers don't have nearly as many fouls to use on Shaw as one would like with only Skinner, Jordan and Randolph anywhere near his weight class. 
  • Trivia Time - Alex Acker from my Alma Mater Pepperdine joined the Clippers on Monday.  How many Waves have played for the franchise?  Can you name any?
  • Gentry - the New D'Antoni?  In his press conference, Alvin Gentry promised a return to the Suns run and gun ways.  "We are who we are and I think we have to go back to trying to establish a breakneck pace like we've had in the past."  Breakneck pace?  Yikes.  The Clippers were able to prevail against the Knicks playing that style, but the Knicks don't have nearly as much talent as the Suns.  Having said that, the Suns haven't played that way all season, and the personnel has changed quite a bit since D'Antoni was there.  It's hard to imagine that they will make to big a transformation by tonight, but we'll see.
  • Gentry in LA.  Alvin Gentry had a couple good seasons in LA.  He won 31 games his first season, which was a major improvement over 15 wins the season before.  The team then stole Elton Brand from Chicago and won 39 in 01-02, despite the fact that Lamar Odom missed 53 games.  All they lacked, it seemed, was a quality point guard, so when they traded Darius Miles for Andre Miller in the off-season, expectations for the team were sky high.  Unfortunately, the personalities never meshed, the six key free agents went rogue, and Gentry lost the team and eventually his job.  Adding an LA native point guard with a strong resume in the off-season, only to be disappointed by the results?  That seems familiar somehow.
  • Can the Clippers win?  Surprisingly, the Clippers have played the Suns close twice this season, despite being without Kaman, Randolph and Baron for each meeting (among others).  The game in LA hinged on some unlikely keys - Steve Nash drawing 5 or 6 charges, Shaq making all of his free throws - or the Clippers might well have won.  Steve Nash has always had problems defending Baron Davis - though he's never actually played against the Clippers version of Baron, who's a lot easier to defend.  Camby's absence hurts, but Richardson's absence hurts the Suns as well.  If Baron and Gordon have big games, I think the Clippers have a chance.
  • Superstar for one game. Matt Barnes.  The spirit of this game precludes me picking any of their starters - these guys are all All Stars.  So that leaves the Suns bench, which is pretty thin.  Louis Amundson has a pony tail - so I'm going with the former Clipper Barnes.
  • Get the Suns perspective at Bright Side of the Sun.  By the way, PhoenixStan had me on his podcast again in advance of the game, so listen to that if you find the time (look for it - I don't have a link yet).  And I do mean if you find the time - PhoenixStan and I tend to talk a lot when we get together, so you'll need a good hour.  Have it on in the background.