Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona
When: 7:00 PM PT
How to Watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, NBA TV
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Patrick Beverley – Landry Shamet – Kawhi Leonard – Patrick Patterson – Ivica Zubac
Suns: Tyler Johnson – Devin Booker – Kelly Oubre Jr. – Dario Saric – Aron Baynes
Clippers: Paul George Out (Shoulder), Rodney McGruder Out (Ankle)
Suns: Deandre Ayton Out (Suspension), Ricky Rubio Out (Calf), Ty Jerome Out (Ankle), Cam Johnson Questionable (Calf)
The Big Picture
The Clippers are 2-0 and have been one of the most impressive teams in the NBA to start the season. Kawhi Leonard looks absolutely locked in on both ends of the court, with his size defensively and ability to get shots off at any point in a possession offensively serving as huge boons to a Clippers roster that lacked both those qualities last season. Lou Williams is as smooth as ever, barbecuing every defender that’s been put in his path so far. And Pat Beverley and Montrezl Harrell continue to be the heart and soul of the Clippers with their infectious energy and attitude. Even presumed end-of-the-bench guy Patrick Patterson has joined in on the fun, dropping 20 points against the Warriors in his finest game in years. It’s too early to say the Clippers are clicking on all cylinders, but they’ve looked quite good against an excellent Lakers team and a still-dangerous Warriors squad, and all signs are that they’ll be one of the best teams in the NBA this season, as expected.
In a Western Conference that has been extremely competitive for the past decade, the Suns have been a bottom feeder, ranging from mediocre to atrocious, and tending towards the latter over the past few years. They did upgrade their roster this summer, finally adding a true starting-level point guard in Ricky Rubio as well as a competent veteran forward in Dario Saric. Those two guys together with the likes of Aron Baynes and the Suns’ youngsters should make this roster at least competitive, if nowhere close to playoff-worthy. Unfortunately, the Suns have already suffered a major blow, with second-year cornerstone Deandre Ayton getting nailed with a 25 game suspension for failing a substance test a mere single game into the season. Without Ayton, the Suns lose much of their offensive firepower, becoming far more reliant on Devin Booker. Even with Ayton, this should have been an easy-ish win for the Clippers. Without him, they should take this one handily.
Getting Landry Shamet Going is Key: While Kawhi and Lou’s dominance was probably the biggest reason for the Clippers’ 3rd quarter takeover against the Warriors, Landry Shamet getting a couple threes to drop had something to do with it as well. Much like J.J. Redick on Lob City, Shamet has been somewhat of a barometer for the Clippers offense in his half season with the team. When he’s getting space and draining threes, the Clippers offense can look unstoppable with its free-wheeling motion and passing. When he’s not, the offense can grow stagnant and devolve into iso-ball. So far, Landry has been mostly quiet, though his shooting numbers are incredibly efficient. Look for the Clippers to try to get him some clean looks early against the Suns, as that gets the entire offense into a better rhythm.
Slowing Devin Booker:
Devin Booker is the alpha and the omega of the Suns’ offense. While there are questions about his effectiveness as a “winning basketball player” and his “impact” considering he’s only played on awful teams, he’s still a brilliant scorer who can carry a team to victory on any given night by himself. The Clippers have done an excellent job at limiting some great offensive players to start the season, successfully slowing both LeBron James and Steph Curry. Booker is younger than either of those guys and a somewhat different challenge, but the Clippers have a multitude of defenders to throw at him, and they can ignore much of the rest of the Suns’ lineup offensively. Similarly to the Warriors and Steph, if the Clips can slow Booker, they should win the game.
As great as the Clippers’ bench was last season, they’ve been even more deadly through the first two games of this campaign. So far, the reserves are averaging 64 points per game, a preposterous number that will surely decrease as the year goes along, but remains mighty impressive nonetheless. The Clippers’ bench, simply, is almost certainly the best in the NBA, with a dominant offensive option (the Lou-Trez pick and roll) as well as strong defenders and floor-spacers (Moe Harkless, JaMychal Green). That’s not even counting the injured Rodney McGruder, the promising rookie Terance Mann, or the enigmatic Jerome Robinson. The Clippers will win games with their bench all season long, and that should be no different against the Suns, a team that has a decent starting lineup but a very thin reserve unit. Expect another huge night for the Clips’ bench in this one.
Check back in for the game thread later tonight!