When the buzzer sounded on Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals last season, the Clippers were just starting to piece together a game plan without their best player, Kawhi Leonard. Over the course of the beginning of this season, however, coach Ty Lue and the Clippers have begun building their identity as a team that might maintain the level of excellence and competitiveness throughout a full season even without Leonard.
As the Clippers host the Suns, tonight, in a Western Conference Finals rematch, they likely will once again be without their best player all season, this time that being Paul George, who is currently listed as doubtful on the injury report. George missed Wednesday’s contest against Boston with an elbow contusion, wasn’t able to do anything at practice Friday, and then was ruled out a day early for Saturday’s clash against Orlando with an elbow sprain.
Injuries have been a considerable factor in the Clippers season, once again, as key rotation contributors Serge Ibaka, Marcus Morris Sr., and Nicolas Batum have all missed time at some point this season. Batum is also listed as questionable for tonight after landing on Dennis Schröder’s ankle in the Celtics game.
Unfortunately for Suns fans, Suns generational talent Devin Booker is out and ascending star Deandre Ayton is also listed questionable. They are joined by Frank Kaminsky, Abdel Nader, and Dario Šarić on the injury report for the Suns. Still, the Suns pose a significant challenge, holding the best record in the league even despite the recent absence of Booker. Keep an eye out for the return of ex-Clippers Chris Paul and Landry Shamet, the former of whom is still putting together a respectable season in his 16th year and the latter of whom may draw a start in Booker’s stead.
This game, thus, will likely be won by the deeper team. To that point, the Clippers are 2-1 in games without George this season, while the Suns are 3-1 in games without Booker. Expect Lue to primarily lean on Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, and Marcus Morris Sr. to assume some of the scoring void left by George, as he has in the previous few games.
With this Clippers team, however, contributions can come from every angle. That is to say, Lue is liable to experiment with lineups and give players like Brandon Boston Jr. or even Justise Winslow chances to crack the rotation, especially in the continued absence of Batum. Big men Ivica Zubac, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Ibaka may also have a unique opportunity to dominate the paint in the absence of the Suns’ primary front court depth.
The Clippers enter this game having won their previous three contests. The Suns similarly enter seeking their third straight win and bonafide start to a new streak, after having their 18-game run broken by Golden State earlier this month. Both teams are not quite at their best, but both have also shown a tenacious ability to compete, even despite injuries. The Suns are no easy target, but the Clippers and their “next man up”, whoever it may be, will be ready for them.
When: Monday, December 13 at 7:30 p.m. PT
Where: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, California
How to watch/listen: NBA TV, Bally Sports SoCal, AM 570 ESPN
Opposing perspective: Bright Side of the Sun
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac
Suns: Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, JaVale McGee
Clippers: Nicolas Batum — QUESTIONABLE; Paul George — DOUBTFUL; Jason Preston, Kawhi Leonard — OUT
Suns: Deandre Ayton — QUESTIONABLE; Devin Booker, Frank Kaminsky, Abdel Nader, Dario Šarić — OUT
This post will serve as the game thread. Enjoy the game, and comment below.