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Clippers Look To Start 2017 With a Win Against Last-Place Phoenix Suns

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They could really use this one.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture

At some point, the Clippers are going to get healthy, get back up on their horse, and be the Clippers again. It’s possible that that will happen tonight—J.J. Redick has been back in action and is off the injury report, and the likelihood of Chris Paul playing seems to be creeping up. Paul came back last Wednesday against New Orleans, and then sat out both Friday night and Saturday night’s games, which ended up being two blowout losses to teams near the Clippers in the standings. Before Friday’s game in Houston, Doc Rivers told press that Chris would be sitting out due to fatigue. On the injury report, he was officially listed as doubtful with a sore left hamstring, and that remains his current designation for tomorrow night.

Not much is changing game-to-game in Chris Paul’s absence except a slow and steady drop in the standings. Now, the Clippers sit in a four-way tie for fourth place (though they have 14 losses and two of the teams they’re tied with only have 13). If they lose again, they’ll risk dropping back from that tie, but there’s a long way to fall until they drop down into the next tier—Sacramento and Denver are currently tied for 8th place with identical records of 14-19.

The most important thing, obviously, is to be healthy come playoff time. But being in a good position when playoff time rolls around is also pretty important. After last season was ruined by injuries in the post-season, the Clippers are understandably being extra-cautious.

The Antagonist:

Well, the antagonists have been relatively irrelevant for the last ten days, haven’t they? The Clippers have been more competitive against bad teams—they lost to the four sub-.500 teams they’ve played by a combined 19 points, while losing to Houston by 24 and Oklahoma City by 26. By this metric, Phoenix figures to represent a relatively close contest.

The Suns have struggled to recreate the magic of a 2014 playoff appearance, with their record declining from 48 wins to 39 in 2015 and just 23 wins last season. They have some young talent but in many ways their rebuild was destroyed by that early success that was unexpected and unsustainable. Now, the Suns have a confusing collection of talent, with some notable veterans playing among their young draft picks. This is best illustrated by their two top scorers: Eric Bledsoe is 27, good but not best-player-on-a-good-team good, and certainly not in the same window as Devin Booker, a promising 20-year-old shooting guard who is still working on balancing volume and efficiency.

Down the roster, the minutes distribution is somewhat confusing for a team that’s in last place in the conference. Players like Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler are logging more minutes than Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Dudley and Chandler aren’t washed up, but they’re both over 30, and Chriss and Bender are 19-year-old rookies. If there was ever a time to play the teenagers and sacrifice a few wins, wouldn’t it be now? The Suns cut 22-year-old Archie Goodwin and signed 34-year-old Leandro Barbosa, and while Barbosa has helped more than Goodwin would have, it has to be wondered how important Barbosa’s 13.5 minutes per game are for the last-place team in the conference.