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Los Angeles Clippers vs Phoenix Suns - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
March 20th, 2011, 12:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Mo Williams
PG Steve Nash
Eric Gordon SG Vince Carter
Ryan Gomes
SF Grant Hill
Blake Griffin
PF Channing Frye
DeAndre Jordan
C Robin Lopez

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

Eric Gordon returned to the Clippers lineup yesterday, and they won the game. Coincidence? Well, not really. Of the past 44 games, Gordon has missed 24. In the 20 he's played, the Clippers are 15-5 - in the 24 he's missed, they're 7-17. That's 10 games over .500 with him, 10 under .500 without him. It's hard to explain why Gordon has such a massive impact on the team. He's their leading scorer of course, and far and away their biggest perimeter threat. He also happens to be the team's best perimeter defender, so he's helping on both sides of the ball. But still, it doesn't seem to explain the numbers. One thing that is difficult to quantify is the virtuous cycle with Gordon on the floor (or conversely the vicious cycle without him). Defenses have to worry about another top scorer, and not just key on Blake Griffin. Gordon is the best deep threat, which opens up more space for Griffin. With more space and more freedom, Griffin is better with Gordon. And as Griffin gets better, Gordon gets more open looks. Against the lowly Cavs yesterday, Gordon and Griffin did it almost all alone - they scored 59 of the team's 100 points. Against the Suns, who are still fighting for a playoff spot, they're going to need more help. Chris Kaman is a likely candidate to step up - he's been awful the last two games, but was looking really solid before that.

The Antagonist:

We've written the Suns off so many times it's hard to keep track of them all. When the Shaquille O'Neal experiment fizzled, it seemed like they were done. They'd given up a lot to get Shaq, and Steve Nash wasn't getting any younger. Then when they lost Amare Stoudemire to free agency, it was obvious that they were done. Besides, Steve Nash wasn't getting any younger. Then in December when they made the desperation move of trading Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus, they simply had to be done. Because, you know, Steve Nash isn't getting any younger. And yes, in all likelihood, the Suns are done. They're only one game out of a playoff spot in the loss column, but they're also behind a couple of other teams, and they probably aren't going to make it back to the postseason this year. But amazingly, they've never taken the huge tumble that most people have thought has been coming for awhile, and that's mostly because even though Steve Nash isn't getting any younger, he keeps playing as if he is. He's leading the Suns in points and of course assists, he's shooting over 50% from the field (which is amazing given the number of jump shots he takes) and his PER is 21.5. He's second in the NBA in assists per game. At 37, he is as good as ever. Unfortunately for the Suns, Nash and Grant Hill (38) cannot in fact defy their ages forever, even if it seems like they can, and Vince Carter is already showing his. There really isn't enough young talent waiting in the wings to take over. So the Suns are almost certainly in a slow (or maybe not so slow) decline at this point. As for their prospects of climbing up into the eighth spot this season, they had lost 4 straight before winning their last game, dropping them behind Houston in the race. Nash has been hurt some, and they can't win without him. Suffice it to say, it's an uphill battle, but they know that they have to win games like this one on the road against the Clippers if they want to have a chance.

The Subplots

  • Home Griffin, Road Griffin. The difference between Blake Griffin's numbers at home and on the road is pretty difficult to ignore. Blake scores 24 points per game at home, 20 on the road. He shoots 6 percentage points better, 53% vs. 47%. He gets to the free throw line twice more per game at home. He averages more rebounds, assists, blocks and steals at home, and few turnovers as well.
  • Streaks over. The Suns had beaten the Clippers nine straight before the Clippers won in December. Then yesterday, the Clippers ended a separate nine game losing streak, this one against Cleveland. Maybe the Clippers can start a little winning streak of their own against the Suns today.
  • Day games. This is the second and final Suns-Clippers game in Los Angeles this year, and both are Sunday afternoon games. I don't think the energy in the crowd is quite the same for these 12:30 tips. However, in the Blake Griffin era, almost every game is a shut out, so hopefully the crowd will be big and boisterous, and the Clippers will have the full home court advantage.
  • Josh Childress. Josh Childress, a favorite candidate as a free agent small forward this summer among some in Clips Nation, signed instead with the Suns. He has spent most of the season sitting on the bench, never really securing a solid spot in the rotation. It got so bad that Childress registered 20 DNP-CDs in a 24 game stretch from mid-January to early March. But he's actually appeared in the last four games, and has gotten some decent minutes. He even managed to score 15 points, tying his season high, against Houston last week. Given the disillusionment with Ryan Gomes, maybe the Clippers could convince the Suns to allow Childress to play for the Clippers today, just as a little tryout. At my sons' rugby games, when the other team doesn't have enough players, our team will loan them a few so that we can still have a match. Why can't we do the same thing in the NBA? The Suns should let the Clippers have Childress if they're not going to use him.
  • Three point shooting. The Suns are still among the league leaders in three point attempts; even as they change the lineup, they make sure to have plenty of shooting. They traded Jason Richardson to Orlando, but brought back Carter and Pietrus who each can shoot with range. They traded Goran Dragic to Houston and got back Aaron Brooks, who doesn't make a very high percentage, but isn't shy about taking them. Overall, they have five players who make at least 38% of there threes, and six who take at least two per game. Given the Clippers' struggles defending the three point line this season, none of this bodes well. Channing Frye in particular will be a challenge for Blake Griffin as he'll roam around the three point line, drawing Blake away from the basket.
  • Who guards Griffin? Who will the Suns give the assignment of Blake Griffin? In the first game they realized that no one on the team could handle him one on one, and they went with the quick double which was very effective. In the second meeting, they gave the assignment to Grant Hill down the stretch, and the veteran did a great job on the rookie, despite giving away a lot of size. It got chippy between Griffin and Hill last time, and if the Suns go to that matchup again, expect it to get chippy again.
  • Clippers small forward. The Clippers just aren't getting any production from the small forward spot. Starter Ryan Gomes, not particularly good all season, is currently in a terrible slump. He's made just 3 of his last 18 shots and has now scored just seven points in the five games. This is the starter we're talking about. The other options haven't been much better. Al-Farouq Aminu is 3 for his last 15. Jamario Moon is 4 for his last 12. Coach Vinny Del Negro will play a lot of three guard lineups to gloss over the problem, especially against the smallish Suns.
  • Superstar for one game: Hakim Warrick. Warrick had a huge game in the first meeting, scoring 25. He had a huge game 12 days ago, scoring 32 against the Rockets.
  • Famous Quotation:

    Solitude, the safeguard of mediocrity, is to genius, the stern friend, the cold, obscure shelter where moult the wings which will bear it farther than suns and stars.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Get the Suns perspective at Bright Side of the Sun.