Where: STAPLES Center; Los Angeles, CA
When: 7:30 PM PT
How to Watch/Listen: Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio
Projected Starting Lineups:
Suns: Tyler Johnson/Devin Booker/Mikal Bridges/Josh Jackson/DeAndre Ayton
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander/Patrick Beverley/Garrett Temple/Danilo Gallinari/Ivica Zubac
Suns: De’Anthony Melton (ankle) and TJ Warren (ankle) are out.
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (knee) and Wilson Chandler (quad) are out.
The last time the Clippers took the court at Staples Center, Tobias Harris was the offensive focal point of the starting unit, Danilo Gallinari was out with back spasms, Boban Marjanovic was adored as a fan-favorite, and the ire towards Avery Bradley was at its peak. A lot has changed in two weeks.
The Clippers return home from their marathon six-game road trip that intersected with the NBA’s annual trade deadline to face the hapless Phoenix Suns (11-47), and the home team might be a lot less recognizable. Gallinari is back in the lineup alongside two new starters: Garrett Temple and Ivica Zubac. Temple and Zubac, along with sharpshooting rookie Landry Shamet, have given the Clippers (31-27) a jolt, despite only going 1-1 in the two games they played. It will be necessary for Head Coach Doc Rivers to integrate the new faces quickly. Shamet, according to Monday’s broadcast, has only four plays he’s comfortable with, and Zubac looked virtually lost in the double-digit loss at Minnesota.
Despite all of the moving parts, the Clippers are hanging around the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race with teams 7 through 10 within three losses of one another. For the past two days, the Clippers have lingered at No. 9, percentage points behind the Sacramento Kings. After Wednesday’s matchup with Phoenix, the Clippers will not play until traveling to Memphis on Feb. 22. Again, heading into the All-Star break, picking up a much-needed win against a team that is looking to lose makes Wednesday crucial.
1. Landry Shamet. There has been a lot made about the similarities between the Wichita State product and former Clipper J.J. Redick. There’s the basketball IQ, the movement off the ball, and the jumper from distance, complete with the leg trajectory upon his release. Shamet, despite his aforementioned limited knowledge of the playbook, has already earned Rivers’ trust. He played the entire fourth quarter on Monday, and knocked down all of his 3-point attempts two nights earlier in his team debut. It also helps that he’s the league’s leader among rookies with a 41.2 percent accuracy rate from 3-point range through 55 games.
2. Devin Booker. For a team with just 11 wins, the Suns are fortunate to have Booker as a starting point. He scored 23 points in the last outing against the Clippers after missing the December matchup due to injury. He also is averaging a career-best 6.7 assists per game, and is the one guy who could single-handedly ruin the Clippers shot at picking up win No. 32. Expect to see Patrick Beverley hound him, but also see Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s length and Temple’s strength used to give the star guard multiple looks defensively.
3. Danilo Gallinari. As much as Clippers fans will fawn over the new “assets,” it’s likely Gallinari who will determine the playoff future for the final two months. If healthy, he is far and away the best player and the clear number one option in the starting lineup. When Lou Williams, who scored a season-high 45 points on Monday, enters, the two form as versatile of a scoring duo as most teams can offer. They’re versatile and sneakily creative with the ball.
The Turning Point:
Phoenix has won four times since December 19. However, three wins are against current playoff teams (Boston, Denver and Sacramento). In all three games, the better team let Phoenix hang around early. The Clippers fell behind by 20-plus points on all six games on their Grammy road trip, which makes it even more remarkable that they snuck away with a 3-3 record on the trip. Get down early against the Suns, and the Clippers could give a young team just enough confidence to steal one and snap a 15-game losing streak.
The Clippers have won 11 in a row against the Suns… it’s tied for the longest active streak for LA against an opponent (Orlando)… Former Clipper Jamal Crawford is one point away from becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer among players who did not make an All-Star team… After setting a franchise record with 89 points off the bench Monday, the Clippers are up to a league-best 52.2 points per game from their reserves on the season…