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Clippers vs. Phoenix - Game Preview

2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Staples Center
March 3rd, 2010, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Steve Nash
Eric Gordon SG Jason Richardson
Rasual Butler
SF Grant Hill
Drew Gooden
PF Amare Stoudemire
Chris Kaman C Robin Lopez

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
  • February 26th in Phoenix - Phoenix 125 - Clippers 112 - Recap  Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers face the Suns for the fourth and final time tonight, and would like to avoid being swept for the second season in a row.  The three prior meetings have been a mixed bag.  The first game, WAY BACK in the first home game of the season, was a two point, last second loss in which the Clippers outplayed the Suns, but missed way too many free throws.  The second meeting was a humiliating butt-kicking on National TV on Christmas Day.  The third one was a scant five days ago in which the Chris Kaman got ejected on the first play of the second half, and the Clippers eventually wore down.  So it's pretty hard to make any predictions from those games.  The Clippers scored very effectively last Friday, but were unable to stop Phoenix, which is kind of how they like to operate.  So the first order of business in this game will be defense, and it starts with the pick-and-roll.  The Clippers will likely be without Craig Smith again tonight, which is too bad as he tore up the Suns last week.  The MRI on his bicep tendon was negative, but he'll probably continue to sit out for a bit.  That loss is mitigated somewhat against the Suns, as Travis Outlaw can certainly play the four against the likes of Channing Frye, and I expect to see that matchup some tonight.  I would like to see Travis get some more minutes, and tonight is a great opportunity.  But overall I think the key to this game is pretty obvious - can Kaman redeem himself for his poor play and early exit last week?  If so, I like the Clippers' chances.

The Antagonist:

Phoenix continues to beat people, as long as they're not the Spurs.  The Suns are currently one game out of home court advantage in the first round, which would have seemed a ridiculous thought if you'd suggested it before the season started.  By the way, home court advantage is a huge factor for Phoenix, especially when you're talking about Utah as a potential opponent.  The Suns actually have a losing record, 15-17, outside of Arizona this season, so you can bet they'd like to play four at home in the first round.  They beat the Nuggets the other night in impressive fashion, and if not for a blown Jason Richardson dunk in the last minute of Sunday's game in San Antonio, they might very well be on a seven game winning streak.  Steve Nash continues to be the greatest 35 year old Canadian point guard in the NBA, but one wonders if he's gotten a little uppity since Canada got lucky in that hockey game Sunday.  Time to bring him and his country down a peg.  Damn canucks.

The Subplots

  • Home Court Advantage.  It worked against the Jazz, so I'm going to play this card again.  Clippers, 18-12 at home.  Suns 15-17 on the road.  The Clippers will obviously win based on those numbers.
  • Robin Lopez.  In last Friday's game, Robin Lopez scored 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.  Monday against the Nuggets he went for 3 and 4.  If Kaman isn't embarrassed about getting tossed, he should at least be embarrassed about letting Lopez go off for a career night (actually, career night doesn't even seem to cover this - since his prior career high for scoring was 20 and he had 19 in the first half, this seems more like a 1.5 career night at least).  Of course, it's not as if Lopez was making one on one post moves.  He was finishing on the pick and roll, and getting offensive put backs.  The Clippers have got to rotate better, and box out better.
  • Channing Frye.  Prior to this season, in four years in the NBA, Channing Frye had taken 70 three pointers, making 20 of them (29%).  This season, he has taken 303 and made 130, 43%.  How does that happen?  Basketball stat guys like Dave Berri like to talk about how players by and large don't change much, that they do the same things more or less year in year out.  Yeah, right.  How does a player for from a non-shooter to the top 10 in percentage, fourth most makes in the league?  It's unbelievable.  Did he start working on the shot when he was signed by the Suns?  Did he start before?  Is it just a confidence thing?  Alvin Gentry gives him the perpetual green light, so everything goes in?  If he can go from 29% to 43% in one season, does that mean anyone can do it?  I have questions and I need answers.
  • Baron's Defense.  During last week's Suns game, I noticed Baron working hard defending Jason Richardson.  At the time I noticed it because he's just come off of a game defending Stephen Jackson, because I assumed that Baron was looking extra motivated on D and that it must have been due to facing his old Warriors mates.  Since then he's also locked in on Tyreke Evans and Deron Williams, and frankly he's looked as focus on defense as I've seen him as a Clipper.  It may be difficult to keep up the defensive intensity over the final 22 games, but I take it as a very good sign of Baron's commitment that he's been working as hard as he has.
  • Frustration?  Baron committed nine turnovers against Utah, almost logging a dreaded triple bumble (hat tip to citizens John R and penguin35).  A couple of the miscues credited to Baron were arguably not his fault, coming on passes catchable passes that just weren't caught.  Much has been made about a chemistry developing between Baron and Kaman, and certainly it's better than it was last season when they barely played together, but still no one's going to be mistaking them for Magic and Kareem any time soon.  Lately, I've felt like I've seen some frustration (an eye roll, a scowl, etc.) from Baron when Chris has not caught a pass or not been where Baron expected him to be.  Monday night, they got into a bit of a back and forth as they ran downcourt after one miscommunication.  It's something to watch for.
  • Phoenix's Phuture.  Since it's all about next season for the Clippers right now, it's worth looking at the horizon for their Pacific Division rivals.  Amare Stoudemire will be a free agent and is looking for a big payday that he's unlikely to get in Phoenix since Robert Sarver is tired of paying the luxury tax.  Two other starters, Steve Nash and Grant Hill, are among the oldest players in the league, and they can't defy their ages forever.  Jason Richardson will be 30, and his productivity has already begun to drop off.  This summer they'll get no better than a late first round pick, and last year's pick, Earl Clark is 38th in the league in minutes played among rookies.  The good news is that 2008 first round pick Lopez is looking like a keeper and Frye was a nice find, but even Frye is not a sure thing, since he's played well enough to perhaps opt out of his $2M option for next season (you gotta figure he will).  In short, while the Clippers future is certainly difficult to predict, there would seem to be a spot near the top of the Pacific Division up for grabs in the near future.
  • Pick-and-roll defense.  (Keeping this bullet more or less the same from last time, since it still completely applies.)  The Suns absolutely eviscerated the Clippers with the pick-and-roll the last two times the teams have 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 about a week.  Now that I think about it, this could get ugly.
  • Eric Gordon.  I hadn't really noticed the trend, but Milph mentioned it a couple of time recently.  Eric Gordon has not been able to string high scoring games together this season.  Only once all year has he scored 20 or more in back to back games, and that was way back in mid December.  Compare that to last season when he had one streak of six consecutive 20+ games and another of five straight.  He scored 24 Monday against Utah, and tonight would seem to be a good night to break the spell against the liberal Phoenix defense.
  • Movie Quote: 

    A king's time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king.

    Mufasa, The Lion King (1994). Hakuna matata.  ClipperMax turned 14 last week, but when he was a baby we used to watch The Lion King all the time.  At the start of the movie, during the Circle of Life song, I'd hold him aloft as Rafiki held Simba.  Now he's 14 and he only wants to watch The Hangover and I can barely lift him at all.  Sigh.
  • Get the Suns perspective at Bright Side of the Sun