When: 6:00 PM PT
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona
How to watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups:
Suns: De’Anthony Melton - Devin Booker - Mikal Bridges - TJ Warren - DeAndre Ayton
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - Avery Bradley - Tobias Harris - Danilo Gallinari - Marcin Gortat
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute Out (knee)
The Big Picture:
After a hot stretch upon Lou Williams’ return from injury, the Clippers have now lost two games in a row: a blowout at home to the Spurs, and a tough loss to the Sixers, also at Staples. While their offense has mostly been right, the Clippers’ defense remains porous, and shows no real signs of being fixed any time soon. If the Clippers are to string together some wins and get back in the mix for homecourt advantage in the Western Conference, they need to move their 21st ranked defense up to at least average (13-17, maybe) levels. Hopefully, a weak January schedule can help them do that.
The Suns are bad. While they’re not as miserable as they were to start the season, they’re still easily the worst team in the Western Conference, and have lost four games in a row. Devin Booker is one of the most deadly scorers in the NBA, and DeAndre Ayton has shown a ton of promise, but they’re really bad defensively, and the depth on the roster is virtually non-existent. Still, the makings of a young core is there, and with another piece in the 2019 draft and some more NBA seasoning, the Suns could look much better in a year or two.
- Shai slumping: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s past three games have been the worst such stretch for him since the early part of the season. He’s been unable to avoid foul trouble, especially early in games, and that’s led to a decrease in playing time. He’s also getting to the free throw line far less often than he was early in the season, and the Clippers’ need that aggression and those free points back. An aggressive Shai who’s not in foul trouble is a menace at both ends, but we just haven’t seen that very much in recent games. Two of his best performances have come against the Suns, so let’s hope that he pulls out another tonight.
- Defending Ayton: The Clippers have had trouble defending premier offensive centers all season. Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic are too slow, Montrezl Harrell is too small, and Danilo Gallinari isn’t strong enough. While DeAndre Ayton is a rookie, he has the physical presence of an All-NBA center in his prime, and has been on a roll as of late. There’s no doubt he’s going to eat against the Clippers, with Harrell as probably the best option due to his activity and quickness. The real key for the Clippers will be attacking him on the other end. While Ayton has already made some strides as a defender, he’s still weak there, and getting him into foul trouble could be huge.
- Sweet Lou is sizzling: Since his return to action two weeks ago, Lou Williams has been tearing up opposing defenses. He’s only had one game scoring less than 16 points, and that was in a blowout against Denver. His playmaking, too, has been on point: he’s racked up at least six assists in five of the seven games, and has regained his spiritual connection with Montrezl Harrell in the pick and roll. Nobody on the Suns can guard Lou, and he should be primed for a big game tonight.
Check out the Suns perspective over at Bright Side of the Sun, and check back in for the game thread later!