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Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

US Airways Center
April 1st, 2011, 7:00 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Mo Williams
PG Steve Nash
Eric Gordon SG Jared Dudley
Ryan Gomes
SF Grant Hill
Blake Griffin
PF Channing Frye
DeAndre Jordan
C Marcin Gortat

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

These two teams met less than two weeks ago in LA, in a game that was relatively close throughout. The play that everyone remembers of course is the Blake Griffin dunk that was nullified by an offensive foul call. But what I remember are the Jared Dudley offensive rebounds and putbacks, the Marcin Gortat pick and roll dunks, and the Channing Frye threes. The bottom line is, the Clippers did not play well enough to win last time, particularly on defense. The Clippers must play better defense if they want to win this game. The other thing that must happen is that Eric Gordon must have a good game. In the last six games, the Clippers have three wins and three losses. In the three losses Gordon is averaging less than 11 points per game - in the three wins, he's averaging 26. When Gordon is struggling to score, it's especially difficult on the Clippers because it's a given that they're not getting anything from the other wing. With five of their final seven games on the road and all of them against playoff contenders (at least mathematically), the Clippers may be looking at an ugly end to the season to bookend their ugly start to the season.

The Antagonist:

Since beating the Clippers 12 days ago, the Suns have lost five of six games including their last four straight. The slump has taken them to the brink of elimination from the playoff race. In fact, they could be eliminated by the end of the evening, if Memphis beats New Orleans and the Clippers win this one. Regardless, Memphis' magic number to eliminate the Suns is just two, and the Rockets have a nice edge on Phoenix as well, so the odds that the Suns will make the playoffs this season are basically down to zero. Still, they're not likely to stop trying, and with the Grizz-Hornets game tipping a couple of hours before this one, they could literally be looking at a must-win situation tonight. Their losing streak has been all about losing the fourth quarter - they've been outscored by double digits in the fourth in each of their last four losses, and in three of those games they were ahead through three. Unfortunately, it also seems that they may still be looking for their new identity, more than three months after the big trade that sent Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson to Orlando for Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat. Just last week, Alvin Gentry changed his starting lineup, benching Vince Carter in favor of Jared Dudley, and inserting Gortat into the first unit ahead of Robin "Sideshow Bob" Lopez. It's not really a good sign when you're tweaking the starting lineup with ten games left in the season and you're five games out of the last playoff spot.

The Subplots

  • The Gortat. I haven't said much about the charge/block call on Griffin's dunk over Gortat. Dennis wrote the recap, there was plenty of good discussion, and I never really felt compelled to chime in. Here's the thing. It wasn't a terrible call in a vacuum. Anonymous players, neural court, unknown game situation... I think it's a block, but as is the case with so many charge/block calls, it could go either way. You can parse the wording in the rulebook as much as you like, but you also have to deal with the reality of how it is called in the NBA game in and game out - which is inconsistent at best. Having said all that, when you put the play back into it's context, Steve Javie is perhaps the only NBA ref who calls that play in that situation a charge. The vast majority of NBA refs give an emphatic "and one" signal and everyone is happy (except the Suns of course) - the league has a superstar play to point to, the superstar himself stays in the game rather than fouling out, ESPN has a highlight to run forever (which of course they will anyway), the crowd is into it, the Clippers are mounting a come back, the game is more competitive - it's a win-win-win-win-win. And as an extra added bonus, it's the right call, because let's face it, Gortat was moving after Griffin took off. On the other hand, Javie will almost ALWAYS call that a charge, ESPECIALLY because he gets to call it on the young superstar of the home team. Javie is like a WWE referee. He's not just a villain, but a caricature of a villain. He should have a black cape and a handle bar mustache. We should all hiss when he makes calls. He relishes being in the spotlight, pissing off the home crowd, and putting the superstar in his place. I knew immediately what the call was when I saw who had blown the whistle - the fact that Blake had just stared Javie down made it obvious, but Javie would have called that a charge anyway. That's just who he is.
  • Griffin Angry. Blake Griffin had a career low two rebounds in the last game, was held to 6 for 18 shooting, and picked up his fourth, fifth and sixth fouls in about 45 seconds to get disqualified - he also got T'd up after the Gortat. So if there was ever a game where Blake had some extra motivation going in, this would be it. He can't be happy about how the last chapter of this story ended, and he'll want to write a new one.
  • Gortat and Dudley. It seems like a "better late than never" situation to put Gortat and Dudley in the starting lineup at this late stage. Of course, even before the change three games ago, they were already playing starter minutes, with Lopez and Carter the starters in name only. Against New Orleans last week, Lopez started - and played 4 minutes... total. I like Gortat a lot - I mean, Steve Nash makes everyone look great, but guess what, Gortat looks great, especially running the pick and roll with Nash. The Clippers were pretty much baffled by it last game, so we'll see if they figure it out this time. Meanwhile, Dudley killed the Clippers 12 days ago, scoring 14 points and grabbing 5 offensive rebounds. Griffin had those 2 rebounds total - which means that Dudley had three more rebounds of Suns misses than Blake did. Not good.
  • Lopez and Carter. Lopez would seem to be moving into a deep reserve role - just a big body to use in certain situations. He hasn't played as many as 10 minutes in the last 4 games, and averaged just 11 per game in March. They were touting him as their long term solution at center at this time last season, and he even got an invitation to try out for Team USA last summer (which tells you a little something about the current state of American big men). Carter on the other hand can be very valuable as an 'instant offense' guy off the bench - he actually led the Suns in scoring in their last game, with 28 points in 29 minutes.
  • Suns Excellence. Assuming that the Grizzlies can manage to win at least two of their final seven games, the Suns will miss the playoffs this season, regardless of how they play down the stretch. That will mark the second time in three seasons, but only the fourth time in the last 23 seasons, that the Suns will not be in the post season. In that time, they've never missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons. As it happens, that run of success started in the 88-89 season while I was living in Phoenix, and explains a lot about why I am an unrelenting fan of upstarts and underdogs today. The Kevin Johnson-Tom Chambers Suns of the late 80s and early 90s is arguably my favorite NBA team of all time (though they started to lose me with the Charles Barkley trade). Phoenix has had a remarkable run of excellence since then, and has effectively re-invented the team a couple of times while avoiding prolonged rebuilding phases. The Steve Nash era may not be over yet, but it will be over soon one way or another - can the Suns re-invent themselves yet again?
  • Nash's rookie season. Steve Nash was originally drafted by the Suns in 1996, as a project point guard. He joined a team that already had Kevin Johnson and Sam Cassell playing the point, so he was pretty well buried on the depth chart. But a month into the season Phoenix traded Cassell - for Jason Kidd. That's correct - in 96-97, the Phoenix roster featured four different point guards who would be All Stars in their careers. Nash was traded to the Mavericks before his third season and his career took off from there.
  • Nash in the NCAA tournament. Given that we're in March Madness, let us not forget that as a freshman Nash led his Santa Clara Broncos to a first round win over Arizona in one of those rare 15-2 upsets, way back in 1993. As a senior, Nash's Broncos upset Maryland in the first round. You gotta love WCC teams in the tourney!
  • Home Griffin, Road Griffin. With five of the Clippers final seven games on the road, we'll mostly see road Griffin down the stretch. 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 fewer turnovers as well. One would expect Griffin to light up the Suns, but in fact he's only had one huge game against them, scoring 28 points on 8 of 11 shooting and grabbing 12 rebounds - not surprisingly, the Clippers won that one.
  • Ralph's mistake. Did I imagine this, or did Ralph Lawler, on more than one occasion during the broadcast of the last meeting, say that the Suns had won both meetings on the season to that point? Did anyone else notice that? It was just weird. He even gave the score of the second game at one point - still stating that the Suns had won. The research folks really let him down on that one.
  • Josh Childress sighting. After disappearing almost completely from view, Josh Childress has recently reappeared in the Phoenix rotation. He logged 20 DNP-CDs over the course of 24 games from January to early March, but has now played in 11 of 13, logging substantial minutes in the last five. His first season in Phoenix has obviously been a disappointment from the standpoint of playing time, but the Clippers would love to have a small forward averaging 11 points and 6.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, shooting 56% from the field.
  • 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 their 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. Frye struggled early in the last meeting, but absolutely killed the Clippers with some daggers in the fourth quarter.
  • Clippers small forward. The Clippers continue to get nothing from the small forward spot. Starter Ryan Gomes has now run his string of games with 0 or 1 field goals and 3 or fewer points to ten. Coach Vinny Del Negro doesn't seem to have much confidence in Al-Farouq Aminu - if AFA starts poorly when he enters the game, he's unlikely to play more than a few minutes. Jamario Moon has been the most productive of the three, but his minutes are completely hit and miss for some reason. VDN clearly prefers to play the three guard lineup - but with Eric Bledsoe currently out of favor, it puts a lot of pressure on Gordon, Mo Williams and Randy Foye to play big minutes. Also, the Suns wings, though not necessarily huge, do know how to post up. Grant Hill, Carter and Dudley all abused the Clippers guards in the post last game.
  • Superstar for one game: Childress. Why not?
  • Famous Quotation:

    Yet I doubt not through the ages one increasing purpose runs,
    And the thoughts of men are widened with the process of the suns.

    Alfred Tennyson.
  • Get the Suns perspective at Bright Side of the Sun.