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Clippers Vs. Suns Preview: No Surprises Please

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The 13-6 Clippers face the last place Phoenix Suns Wednesday night in L.A. with an opportunity to stay atop the Western Conference standings.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

When: 7:30 PM PT

How to Watch/Listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, Fox Sports App, AM 570 Radio

Projected Starting Lineups:

Suns: Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, T.J. Warren, Trevor Ariza, Deandre Ayton

Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Boban Marjanovic

Injuries:

Suns: Devin Booker (Toe) - Doubtful

Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (knee) - OUT, Marcin Gortat (Back) - OUT, Jerome Robinson (Foot) - OUT

The Big Picture:

Raise your hand if you thought the Los Angeles Clippers would be atop the Western Conference Standings at the beginning of the season. Yep, nothing in the sky. It makes sense: no one in their right minds thought this would have happened. Yet, here were are, as a “starless”, underrated squad has clawed and grinded their way to 13 wins in their first 19 games despite having the fourth hardest schedule in the league according to ESPN’s SOS rankings.

The Clippers are being led by egalitarian lineups that spread out scoring, dish the rock, and maintain high levels of defensive intensity. However, one player that does tend to stick out on a nightly basis is Tobias Harris. Harris walked home with the Western Conference Play of the Week award for last weeks efforts, in which the team went 3-1. He is currently averaging 21.5 points and 8.7 rebounds a game on 52.5/42.7/82.8 shooting splits, and looking every bit like the max-contract player he aspires to be this summer. If he keeps this up, look for his name to be in All-Star conversation come February.

Going back to the spread it out ways of the Clippers offense. They currently have four players averaging 15+ on a nightly basis. Danilo Gallinari is having a career year thus far putting up 18.6 points a game with six rebounds as well. Lou Williams, despite being pretty cold shooting wise over the last few games, is still incredible down the clutch and still looked to for game winning shots. He is averaging 17.6 points a game and his bench comrade, Montrezl Harrell, continues to impress, averaging career highs across the board including scoring 15.8 points a game and pulling down 7.4 boards.

The Clippers are currently in first place in the Western Conference, and if it wasn’t for some late game collapses against the Washington Wizards and Oklahoma City Thunder, would have a pretty wide gap between first and second. Still, Clippers fans have to be over the moon as this team has over achieved thus far and is showing no signs of slowing down. They have won nine of their last 11 games and are facing three teams this week: Suns, Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks, who are beatable. While the latter two are better than most expected, the Clips have to take care of business and win the easier games in the West.

The Antagonist:

The Phoenix Suns are in a rebuild. There’s no question about it. Currently sporting a 4-16 record, and last place standing in the Western Conference, the Suns have a decent amount of young talent, but can’t seem to do too much with it. Despite having a lottery pick for the past seven seasons, the Suns haven’t made the playoffs in that span and are still waiting for their breakthrough season.

The Suns are led by star guard Devin Booker, who is averaging 24.9 points and 7.6 assists per game as he has taken on a new role as point guard of the team. This is a squad who was hunting for free-agent PG’s this summer and missed. Thus, head coach Igor Kokoskov has implemented the teams best guard at the one position. Booker is well above his career average in assists (3.7) this season and has seemed to take to the new role. While the Suns will try again this offseason to get a new point guard, having Booker there for the time being is a smart idea.

The Suns are a super young team. However, teams that sleep on them could see a competitive game when they don’t want one. The Suns have had impressive wins this season over the Milwaukee Bucks, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, so they can beat good teams. Outside of Booker, the Suns are led by forward T.J. Warren (17.4 PPG), rookie center Deandre Ayton (16.9 PPG, 10.4 RPG) and veteran swingman Trevor Ariza (10 PPG). This has all the odor of a trap game for the Clippers if they play down to their competition. The Suns will be waiting to attack if so.

Notes:

Take advantage of disparities: The Clippers (while they hardly ever look like it) are a top 10 rebounding team in the NBA. The Suns are dead last in total rebounds. Taking advantage of this will be imperative for not blowing an easy win at home Wednesday night. The Suns are also 28th in total scoring, while the Clips are third. Basically, the Clips are better in most statistical categories and taking advantage of this disparity will help them to a comfortable win if they take care of business.

Don’t play down to the competition: The Clippers have this bad habit of letting bad teams stick around or make huge comebacks against them. This is usually through a combination of bad defensive lulls, iso-ball offense and just general laziness. This happened against the Wizards, the Hawks stuck around all game and the Nets were basically up all game until the end of the fourth. Keeping their foot down on the gas will be imperative against the Suns at home as their next four games after are away.

Milos for hire?: It was reported last week that Milos Teodosic was not the happiest of campers with the Clippers and would want a change of scenery, most likely back to his native continent of Europe. However, the Suns allegedly had interest in Teodosic this offseason as their point guard situation was (and still is) unclear. Maybe Milos gets a little extra burn Wednesday night to showcase his stuff to Phoenix for a potential trade this season to clear cap space or pick up a late pick/two-way guy.