The Back Story:
- October 28th in LA - Phoenix 109 - Clippers 107 - Recap Box Score
- December 25th in Phoenix - Phoenix 124 - Clippers 93 - Recap Box Score
The Big Picture:
The Clippers lost their first five games under interim coach Kim Hughes, but have won their last three. Of course, the quality of the competition may have a little something to do with it. Of those five losses, four were against playoff teams (the other being an embarrassing road loss to the Warriors). Of the three wins, all were at home, and all were against teams currently below .500. Neither of those things can be said about tonight's game against the Suns in Phoenix. Still, it will be an interesting yardstick for the team. Newcomers Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and Drew Gooden have provided a spark for the Clippers, who have played with more purpose in coming from behind to win their last two games. It will be interesting to see what happens against with this new group against a top opponent. Of course it's still early in the process of integrating the new pieces of the team. Blake has only played in four games, Outlaw and Gooden in two each, and they've barely had time to practice. The Suns are playing well, but they're certainly not unbeatable. Control Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash, go to Chris Kaman in the post, hit some shots, take care of the ball, dominate the boards, defend the three... these are the things they have to do to have a shot in this game. Easier said than done.
Prior to the beginning of the season, most experts thought the Suns were a longshot to make the playoffs this year. Steve Nash was getting too old, Amare Stoudemire was continually offered in trade, and basically their window of opportunity had closed. Phoenix then surprised everyone and opened the season 14-3. Then they went 7-9 in December, and 7-9 again in January, and once again everyone thought it was the beginning of the end for the Suns. But surprise, surprise, they've been one of the hottest teams in the NBA in February and have won 8 of their last 10 - this despite the ongoing furor around trading Stoudemire that continued right up until the trade deadline. When the dust settled, Stoudemire was still and Sun, and the Suns were still a playoff team - easily. But the relative success of the season must be tempered for Suns fans. They'll make the playoffs, but will they make it out of the first round? Then next season Stoudemire could be gone for nothing in return, Nash and Grant Hill will be another year older, and the arduous task of re-building will begin in earnest. I won't feel sorry for Suns fans though - they've had the pleasure of watching Nash for six seasons now, and he's rewarding them this year with one of his best performances ever, defying the odds and his age. You can't be in too much of a hurry to rebuild while you're watching Nash.
- Outscoring people. The Suns are first out of 30 NBA teams in offensive efficiency - and 29th in defensive efficiency. Given those positions, you might expect Phoenix to have a record around .500. The reason they're up above .600 is because their offense is SO MUCH BETTER than anyone else. Their effective field goal percentage of .538 leads the league, which isn't surprising since they're second in overall field goal percentage and first in three point percentage. They also take a lot of threes, almost 9 a game which is fourth in the league. If they get on a roll, watch out.
- Nash. In the history of the NBA, there have been 11 seasons in which a player has shot 50% from the field, 40% from three, and 90% from the line. Larry Bird did it twice. Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Steve Kerr, Dirk Nowitzki and Jose Calderon have done it once each. And Steve Nash is on pace to do it for the fourth time in five seasons. Oh, and that other season he shot .899 from the line or he'd be going on five in a row. He is a shooter without equal in the history of the league - and that's not even the thing he does best. That's how good this guy is.
- Gimpy backed point guards. Both of the starting point guards in this game (stepbrothers, as it turns out) have missed games recently with back issues. Baron Davis sat out two games a week ago, and Nash skipped his team's trip to Oklahoma City on Tuesday. Both played in their most recent games, and should be OK for tonight.
- Erstwhile rivalry. It wasn't that long ago that the Clippers and the Suns played a terrific seven game series in the Western Conference Semi-finals. And the Clippers continued to have pretty good regular season success against Phoenix for a couple of seasons after that. But the Suns have now won six in a row, and nine of the last ten. Even more disturbing is that suddenly the games have become hopelessly one sided. Of the last four meetings, the Suns have won three of them by 31, 23 and 40. The last game on Christmas Day was so bad that it was the first time that MDsr began thinking about stepping asideas the coach.
- All star centers. Amare Stoudemire started for the Western Conference at center this year, and Chris Kaman was named to the team as a replacement reserve. Never mind that Amare doesn't play center for the Suns, who recently inserted Robin Lopez into the starting lineup. (After the game, Lopez is going to kill Bart Simpson.) It will be interesting to see how Drew Gooden handles Amare, and how Lopez handles Kaman. Kaman will have to have a big night shooting the ball for the Clippers to have a chance.
- Pick-and-roll defense. The Suns absolutely eviscerated the Clippers with the pick-and-roll the last time the teams met. The nuances of pick and roll defense, where to send the dribbler, how to play the screen, how the rest of the team rotates, etc, take a lot of time together and practice. Three of the nine rotation players for the Clippers have been here for a week or less. Now that I think about it, this could get ugly.
- Griffin in uniform! Don't get too excited - it's the wrong Griffin. Taylor Griffin made it onto the floor for the third time in his NBA career on Wednesday and he equaled his career high (2 points). Who would have thought that Taylor Griffin would outscore Blake Griffin this season?
Devil's Snare, Devil's Snare..."It's deadly fun, but will sulk in the sun!" That's it! Devil's Snare hates sunlight! Lumos Solem!
- Get the Suns perspective at Bright Side of the Sun.