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Clippers-Suns Preview: The Slash Brothers Return to Staples Center

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After a sputtering start to their season, the Los Angeles Clippers finally resemble the team that fans and NBA followers expected, particularly on the offensive end. The Clippers will attempt to increase their current win streak to eight by defeating the visiting Phoenix Suns, who are young, athletic, and dangerous. While a victory against the Suns may not qualify as a "statement game," it would help build the case that the Clippers are continuing to round into shape against quality competition.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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14-5

12-9
December 8th, 2014, 7:30 PM PST
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, FSAZ, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown (2014-2015)
5-1 East 6-3
9-4 West 6-6
7-3 Home 6-4
7-2 Road 6-5
3-5 .500+ 3-4
11-0 .500- 9-4
9-1 L10 6-4
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Eric Bledsoe
J.J. Redick
SG Goran Dragic
Matt Barnes SF P.J. Tucker
Blake Griffin
PF Markieff Morris
DeAndre Jordan C Miles Plumlee
Advanced Stats
93.7 (11th of 30) Pace 96.8 (4th of 30)
113.5 (3rd of 30) ORtg 107.7 (11th of 30)
105.1 (10th of 30) DRtg 105.5 (13th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Chris Douglas-Roberts (Achilles) Questionable
Isaiah Thomas (Ankle) Questionable
Reggie Bullock (Ankle) Questionable

Jordan Farmar (Back) Questionable

The Back Story (The Clippers lead the 2014-2015 season series 1-0):

Date Venue Final

11/15/2014 Los Angeles Suns 107, Clippers 120 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Los Angeles Clippers are riding high on a seven-game win streak.  Over the last ten games, with the exception of the debacle in Memphis, the Clippers have shared the ball beautifully, made crisp decisions, and have been rewarded with seeing the ball go through the hoop quite often.  They have also been scorching hot from deep, which has allowed the players to spread out and play instinctive basketball.  The long ball has given both new life to the offense and confidence to some of the players who had been struggling early in the season.  The Clippers' improvement has also been seen on the less glamorous side of the court.  Since November 19th, the Clippers have climbed from 23rd in defensive rating to 10th.  It is true that the Clippers have hardly seen the best competition that the NBA has to offer in their last ten games.  However, the Clippers have generally been dominating, not merely beating, these teams.  Earlier in the season, many of these contests likely would have been grueling, ugly, and close.  At this point, the Clippers (especially the starters) have shown remarkable consistency from night to night, which was lacking through their first nine games.  The Suns are a quality team, but the Clippers have a great chance at success if they continue to trust each other and play unselfishly.

The Antagonist:

The Phoenix Suns took most people by surprise last season, going from cellar dweller to missing the playoffs by the smallest of noses in a brutal Western Conference.  They have a quality head coach in Jeff Hornacek, and the players compete hard for him (he certainly has the support of the Steve Kerr, the coach of the hottest team in the NBA at the moment).   The Suns find themselves in a similar position this season, as they are currently sitting in eighth place in the Western Conference.  They are a good team, but they are not quite elite.  However, they do have several intriguing players, and their backcourt (ex-Clipper Eric Bledsoe, Goran "The Dragon" Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Gerald Green) is deep and intimidating.  However, they lack balance, as their young and athletic frontcourt players lack the polish and skill of their guards.  They do not have a defensive or offensive anchor on the front line, which may continue to hold them back.  Their splashiest signing of the summer was Thomas, a small, offensive-minded guard.  Perhaps Thomas represented some insurance in case Bledsoe took his talents elsewhere, but the signing strengthened a strength as opposed to strengthening a weakness.  Nevertheless, the future looks bright for the Suns, and they have the pieces to continue to make moves that will enable them to move up in the Western Conference.  They just have to play their cards right.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics. Both teams rank in the top half of the league in pace, offensive rating, and defensive rating.  Defensively, the difference between the teams is somewhat negligible (10th vs. 13th), with the Clippers having a slight edge overall.  The Suns play at a much faster pace than the Clippers do, but the Clippers have a more efficient offense.  Unless one team commits to playing some serious defense, especially in transition, this game could come down to a shootout. 
  • The domination of Blake Griffin. Although Griffin seemed somewhat out of sorts in the first nine games of the season, he has hit his stride lately.  His field goal percentage has now  climbed to over 50%.  Griffin is playing in rhythm, and he is not thinking so much about when to drive or when to shoot the jumper.  As a result, he has kept defenders on their toes.  His inside-outside game has been a huge reason for the Clippers success recently.  He is coming off a spectacular performance (both offensively and defensively) against phenom Anthony Davis and the Pelicans.  In the previous three games of this homestand, Griffin has been spectacular, averaging 24.7 points on 60% shooting, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists.  If history is any indication, Griffin may be in for another big night against Phoenix.  Who can forget the game against Phoenix on March 10, 2014 last season, in which Griffin scored 37 shots on 14 of 16 shooting: Griffin also had a successful outing against the Suns in the previous contest this season, scoring 19 points (on 58.3% shooting), corralling 8 boards, and dishing out four assists.  If Griffin is on his game, then the Suns will likely have their hands full.  His success is certainly a key to the game. 
  • J.J. Redick - marksman extraordinaire. Not much can be said about J.J. Redick's play recently other than that it has been astounding.  After starting out the season in a miserable slump from beyond the arc, Redick is now shooting 40.4 on three-point attempts.  In the last three games, Redick is averaging 21.3 points on 61.1 percent shooting. He has scored over 20 points in each of these three games, and the Clippers are undefeated when he scores over 20 points.  The Clippers are a team filled with gifted offensive players, but when Redick is playing at a high level, he takes the offense to stratospheric heights.  Look for the Clippers to try to get Redick going early again. 
  • Will Isaiah Thomas return? The Suns' latest acquisition, former King Isaiah Thomas, has missed six consecutive games with an ankle bruise. The Suns have gone 3-3 in that stretch, but the Suns did still have the services of Bledsoe and Dragic.  Thomas' presence may make a difference for the Suns, as he has a history of being a tremendous pain for the Clippers.  He only shot 33.3% against the Clippers in the game on November 15th (while still racking up 19 points), but he is a dangerous offensive player that the Clippers need to try to contain.  He is similar to Jamal Crawford in that he is a "heat check" kind of player. 
  • Chris Paul vs. Eric Bledsoe. It is always interesting to witness the battle between mentor and protege.  There is no question that Paul is having the better season of the two, and the student has not yet become the master.  Paul's numbers are eye popping.  He is averaging 17.9 points on 53.4% shooting (44.8% from deep), 9.8 assists (to just 1.5 turnovers), and he is averaging 4.8 rebounds.  Although the Clippers have moved on from Bledsoe, Clippers' fans likely will always have a soft spot for him.  He was a sparkplug off the bench, and his game nicely complemented Paul's.  The jury may still be out on whether or not the Clippers got enough value for him, as Bledsoe is a borderline All-Star in this league (although it remains to be seen how good of a floor general he is).  He has always been a menacing defensive presence, and Paul will need to take extra care of the ball when Bledsoe is guarding him. 
  • Jekyll and Hyde Suns. It remains to be seen which version of the Suns come out to play against the Clippers.  Will it be the team that defeated the red hot Mavericks by double digits on the road? Will it be the team that lost to the Magic at home?
  • Forcing turnovers and transition offense. The Suns tend to cough up the ball quite a bit (they rank 24th in turnovers).  If the Clippers can exploit this weakness, they have a chance to get some easy baskets in transition.
  • Interior defense. As the "Slash Brothers" nickname implies, the Suns have a backcourt that is skilled at penetrating into the lane.  The Clippers must do their best to keep Dragic and Bledsoe from slicing and dicing their way into the paint.  Deandre Jordan's importance in this game is huge, as he needs to deter the guards from thinking that they have a free lane to the rim. The wings must do their part in staying in front of their assignments. 
  • Return of Ralph Lawler. After missing his first game on Saturday night due to illness or injury, Ralph Lawler says that he is going to be fine, and he is expected to return to his microphone against the Suns.
  • Get the Suns' perspective at Bright Side of the Sun.
  • Wikipedia entry. Sun is an unincorporated community and coal town in Fayette County, West Virginia.