Heading into the season, the teams that were projected to contend for the Western Conference crown either resided in Los Angeles or were in cities starting with the letter ‘D’. And yet, the top two teams in the West are both newcomers: the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns.
The Clippers have shown the ability to contend with the Jazz, even at full strength, but the Suns are a less familiar challenge. The two teams matched up once earlier this year when the Clippers nearly blew a 31-point lead and survived on a late Nic Batum 3-pointer. That was almost three months ago; now, LA has two different starters, and Phoenix has gone 28-6 since falling to .500 at 8-8.
In case it’s unclear what a ridiculous winning percentage that is, if the Suns won at that rate for a full 82-game season, that would result in 68 wins. This is a good team.
When: Thursday, April 8 at 7 p.m. PT
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
How to watch/listen: TNT
Opposing perspective: Bright Side of the Sun
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers (34-18): Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac, Patrick Beverley, Paul George
Suns (36-14): Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, Chris Paul, Devin Booker
Clippers: Serge Ibaka (lower back) — OUT
Suns: Abdel Nader (right knee) — OUT
The Suns have been absolutely dominant despite the fact that their two best players still haven’t meshed completely. For context, the Clippers outscore opponents by 15.4 points per 100 possessions when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George play together. Meanwhile, Phoenix is plus-6.9 with both Chris Paul and Devin Booker on the floor.
Rather than have one overwhelming set of players, the Suns are just good all throughout the game. Their starters have an interesting combination of shot creation, shooting, and defense, and then their bench runs teams off the floor with their pace while playing Dario Saric at center. Phoenix is so deep that players like E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway don’t even crack the rotation on a regular basis.
What the Clippers need to do tonight is step on the gas early like they did against Portland. Yes, the Suns have depth, but they also played an overtime game last night in Phoenix and will be coming in at a sizable rest disadvantage. This is a game the Clippers should try to put away early.
There was some chirping during the last matchup, which is to be expected on any teams involving Paul and Patrick Beverley. Devin Booker ran his mouth a little bit, and Jae Crowder and Marcus Morris Sr. don’t have the most pleasant history either. If this is close down the stretch, be prepared for some extra-curricular activity as well.