The shorthanded Los Angeles Clippers are back in action Thursday and, given what we’ve seen so far this season, that means literally anything could happen.
When they’re down a couple of guys, these Clippers have quite the knack for pulling themselves back from the brink, or beating a team they’d be expected to take some hits from even when fully healthy. On the other hand, they’ve also shown themselves capable of letting games go against sides they’d expect to be taking to task. Luckily for Ty Lue’s men, their next opponents, the Phoenix Suns, fall very much into the former category, and this squad already has the muscle memory of picking up a win against last year’s Western Conference champions with key players sitting it out on the sidelines.
While coach Lue has cleared health and safety protocols and will return to the bench for the trip to Phoenix, the Clippers injury report still holds the names of a number of their star players. Of the five who started the last meeting, both Luke Kennard and Ivica Zubac will be absent this time around, and they also won’t be able to call on the services of Isaiah Hartenstein from the bench. Although I’m sure the Clippers would much prefer to be able to call on all of their key guys against such a strong team, it could be a blessing in disguise for this franchise.
When: Thursday, January 6 at 7 p.m. PT
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
How to watch/listen: TNT, Bally Sports SoCal, AM 570 ESPN
Opposing perspective: Bright Side of the Sun
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris Sr., Serge Ibaka
Suns: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Jalen Smith
Clippers: Brandon Boston Jr. — QUESTIONABLE; Paul George, Isaiah Hartenstein, Luke Kennard, Kawhi Leonard, Jason Preston, Ivica Zubac — OUT
Suns: Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, Frank Kaminsky, JaVale McGee, Abdel Nader, Dario Saric, Landry Shamet — OUT
The Suns themselves have had a number of possible Covid cases in recent weeks, but they know for sure they’ll be able to call on the services of Devin Booker this time around, which will be a huge plus for the team with the second-best record in the league.
The Clippers will be able to take solace from the fact that they were able to keep Chris Paul so quiet last time out, with the former Lob City star going scoreless in three of four quarters. The squad’s defensive effort has been a persistent theme throughout the season, with the schemes coach Lue continues to draw up proving impactful against some of the biggest stars in the NBA, including Paul.
The team will also acknowledge the crucial role that Marcus Morris Sr., Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann played on the offensive side of the ball in their victory last time out, combining for 60 of their 111 points. In fact, the entire offence was on a roll that night, something which hasn’t necessarily been the case all season.
Their offensive rating is the fourth worst in the league right now at 106.2, per NBA.com, surrounded by some of the league’s worst teams. By contrast, the Suns have the eighth best offence with a rating of 111.6 and a top five true shooting percentage of 57.5 — just ahead of the Brooklyn Nets, the shorthanded Clippers’ most recent big conquest. Unfortunately for Lue and his staff, Phoenix also boasts the second best-defensive rating in the league at 104.1, two places and rating points above the 213.
Ultimately, the shorthanded Clippers have another massive task on their hands as they travel out to the desert, but they won’t let that discourage them. This team has shown such incredible spirit in the face of several big setbacks that the Clippers will believe they can remain in this next fight right until the end. They showed that same spirit in last year’s playoffs before they ultimately came up short against the Suns. Those circumstances have been ramped up further this season, and yet this group of guys show no real signs of slowing this train down.