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Clippers-Suns preview: Number 82

The Clippers finish the regular season in Phoenix, with a lot left to be decided.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season

April 14th, 2015, 7:30 PM PST
US Airways Center
Prime Ticket, TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown (2014-2015)
19-11 East 18-12
36-15 West 21-30
30-11 Home 22-18
25-15 Road 17-24
19-22 .500+ 15-30
36-4 .500- 24-12
9-1 L10 1-9
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Eric Bledsoe
J.J. Redick
SG Archie Goodwin
Matt Barnes SF P.J. Tucker
Blake Griffin
PF Markieff Morris
DeAndre Jordan C Marcus Morris
Advanced Stats
96.9 (10th of 30) Pace 98.7 (3rd of 30)
109.8 (1st of 30) ORtg 102.9 (14th of 30)
102.9 (15th of 30) DRtg 103.3 (17th of 30)

Alex Len (broken nose) out

Brandon Knight (ankle) out

Brandan Wright (foot) questionable

Reggie Bullock (concussion) questionable

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

Date Venue Final

11/15/2014 Los Angeles Clippers 120, Suns 107 Recap Box
12/8/2014 Los Angeles Clippers 121, Suns 120, OT Recap Box
1/25/2015 Phoenix Clippers 120, Suns 100 Recap Box
4/14/2015 Phoenix Tonight

The Big Picture:

And then there was one. As in, one game left. It's game number 82 on the schedule, and it means a ton for the Clippers, with so many Western Conference playoff seeds still up in the air. They've won 6 straight and 13 of 14 against a weak closing schedule, but all wins count alike, and they've had one of the league's tougher schedules overall. In racking up the wins, they've put themselves in prime playoff position, and a victory tonight would mean a first-round matchup against a relative softie like Houston or Memphis and a safe place out of the Golden State machine's side of the bracket. The starting lineup, the core that will carry this team to whatever glory it may achieve, has played nearly 300 more minutes together than any other five-man lineup. It is functioning as highly as could be asked of it, so while a win is important, leaving the desert healthy may be equally so. The Clippers would be well suited not to muck about. Get in, get the lead, get out, and let the bench finish it off.

The Antagonist:

On February 10th, the Suns entered the All-Star break at 29-25 and holding the West's 8th seed. Seven days later, they traded Goran Dragic to the Heat and Isaiah Thomas to the Celtics, having just relinquished the final playoff spot to the Thunder, and perhaps realizing that finishing a second consecutive season as the conference bridesmaid was a near certainty. It was a clear admission from Phoenix's front office that the bottomless depth at point guard they believed could sustain last season's magic made for an untenable situation. Like most three-headed creatures, this one began to quarrel with itself, so two heads were dispatched. Since those trades, the Suns have won just 10 of 27 games, few of which came against teams of note. It's tough to argue they have been tanking -- if they were, then they shouldn't have beaten Utah on April 4th, their only win in their last 10 games -- rather, they've just been bad. Tonight should be no different. Brandon Knight, their own midseason acquisition and presumed replacement for the departed Dragic -- or Thomas, take your pick -- has played just once since March 9th. Similarly named Brandan Wright is also out, along with young center Alex Len. With little left to play for and a talented and motivated Clipper team arriving in town, it's likely this Phoenix season, which began with so much fire, ends in ashes.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics. The Suns score 102.9 points per 100 possessions. The Clippers allow 102.9 points per 100 possessions. Huh, I wonder how many points the Suns will score tonight per 100 possessions.
  • The schedule. None yet, although we know now that Game #1 will be at STAPLES Center. The playoffs begin this weekend.
  • Phoenix out West. Surely, this team wishes it were in the Eastern Conference. After missing last year's postseason tournament by one game, they again found themselves lagging behind the West's better competition and were prodded into a midseason retool. As it stands now, if the Suns resided in the country's lesser half, they would solidly be the 7th seed. Or perhaps better -- see their 18-12 record against Eastern foes.
  • Playoff seeding. Justin Russo pointed out in his Nuggets preview yesterday that the Clippers finish their season earlier than their playoff opponents do.  The Rockets, Spurs, and Grizzlies all play Wednesday, so the Clippers will have 24 hours to cool their heels before they know whom they'll be playing this weekend. If you've taken the time to parse out all the playoff possibilities, you're a better person than I. I'll just wait till Thursday morning.
  • Chris Paul vs. Eric Bledsoe. The master and the apprentice meet again, but this time, the young Bledsoe won't have a high-powered partner to draw away some attention. Interestingly, Bledsoe has not assumed a larger role in the offense with the departures of Dragic or Thomas, or with the injury absence of Knight. His pre- and post-All-Star splits are shockingly close. It has been Gerald Green and Marcus Morris (the lesser Morris, if that helps) who have taken the extra shots. Still, Bledsoe figures prominently in Phoenix's drive-and-kick system, and with little else to play for, he may be motivated just by the opportunity to show his chops against his mentor, the point god, on national television.
  • Blake Griffin vs. the Morris twins. It seems redundant to point out Blake Griffin's rivalries — who doesn't he have a rivalry with? — but the Morrises ("Morrii" if you're in Zach Lowe's camp) count among his lesser conflicts. Blake has submitted strong performances against Phoenix, perhaps none more memorable than his three-point buzzer-beating heave to down the Suns in December. Still, the Suns present a challenging matchup, as they're able to throw two (literally) identical defenders at Blake with similar size/speed/strength profiles. Markieff provides the added challenge of competent scoring, forcing Blake to play at both ends of the floor.
  • Connections. This is meeting #4, so these have been thoroughly covered by others... Eric Bledsoe and Reggie Bullock are former Clippers... Clippers starting forward Matt Barnes played the 2008-2009 season with the Suns... Clippers reserve Hedo Turkoglu was traded by Toronto to Phoenix in July 2010, where he spent a few months in Phoenix before the Suns dealt him to Orlando in December... The Morris twins (Kansas) and Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) would have played against each other one time in college but Griffin missed the game due to a concussion.... Chris Paul and P.J. Tucker played against one another twice in college, with Wake Forest and Texas splitting the two meetings... Alex Len and Austin Rivers met twice in college, with Duke beating Maryland both times... Rivers and Reggie Bullock met twice in college, as well. Duke and North Carolina split the meetings, with Duke's win coming at the hands of Austin Rivers' game-winning three... Any more? Put them in the comments.
  • Wikipedia entry. "The Sun (XIX) is a trump card in the tarot deck" associated with attained knowledge and representing accomplishment, at least through one interpretation. Seems like a fitting choice for the regular season's end.