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When: Sunday, December 23, 2012, 6:00 PM local time (8:00 EST)

Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ

Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR

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Last Meeting:

On December 8th, the Suns played 36 minutes of very competitive basketball at the Staples Center against the Clippers. The Clippers, meanwhile, played 48. LA stultified the Suns in the 4th quarter, starting with a 17-4 run, and turned a close game into a blowout loss for the Suns, 117-99. Blake Griffin scored a game high 24 points and dominated the Suns with his freakish athleticism. Chris Paul played well (16 points, 11 assists), while Goran Dragic was pathetic pedestrian (8 points, 5 assists, 4 turnovers). The Suns two best individual performances came from Michael Beasley (19 points in the first half) and Luis Scola (18 points, 10 rebounds), but, ironically, both were on the court for the 4th quarter meltdown.

Team Bios:

Los Angeles Clippers: 20-6

Points per game: 101.1 (9th) Points allowed: 92.2 (4th)

Injuries: Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups are out. Eric Bledsoe is day to day.

Remember that loss to the Clippers back on December 8th? The one I just referenced right above this? The Clippers haven't lost since that game. In fact, the Clippers haven't lost since November 26th. That win over the Suns was their 5th consecutive win in what has now ballooned to a franchise record 12 game winning streak. Five of those 12 wins have been on the road, including victories against the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. The Clippers are good.

LA is led by their all-star duo of Chris Paul (16 points, 9.4 assists, 2.6 steals) and Blake Griffin (18.2 points, 8.8 rebounds), but get solid contributions from many players with seven averaging at least 9.3 points per game. In fact, Jamal Crawford is second on the team in scoring (16.1) coming off the bench and reserve Matt Barnes (10.1) is 4th.

The Clippers last played Friday in a 97-85 victory over the Sacramento Kings. The Clippers have won their last four games by double digits, with an average margin of victory of 16.5 points per game. Like I wrote previously, the Clippers are good.

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Phoenix Suns: 11-16

Points per game: 98.1 (12th) Points allowed: 100.8 (26th)

Injuries: None. Big ups to the Suns necromantic prodigious medical staff.

The Phoenix Suns return home after a tough loss on the road to the Portland Trail Blazers in what ended up being a very winnable game. Damian Lillard turned out to be the difference as the phenom rookie dominated the individual matchup against Goran Dragic. After a scoreless first quarter, he went for a game high 25 points (18 in the second half, including nine of the Blazers final 12 points) and seven assists. The Suns were led by a solid effort from Marcin Gortat, who scored 18 points (9-12 from the field) and grabbed nine rebounds. Despite the fact that the Blazers seemed incapable of guarding the gazelle, Marcin was perplexingly limited to 12 field goal attempts in a game where he was seemingly capable of scoring at will...

Despite their recent improved play the Suns are still rudderless. Quality role players abound, but there is no leader for them to unite around. Too many Indians, not enough chiefs. The Suns have six players averaging double figures, but their best scorers seem to be the worst defenders. Meanwhile, the best defenders struggle to score. Much of this isn't surprising, since the team is deficient in players that have even one NBA skill that is markedly above average. On any given night, if enough of the role players step up the Suns will be competitive and have a good chance to win (especially at home). When they don't, the Suns lose (especially on the road where role players, young players and reserves tend to struggle).

To expound on this, the Suns home record of 9-5, including four straight wins, has been sterling compared to their wretchedly woeful mark of 2-11 on the road. Unfortunately, the Clippers road mark of 8-3 still trumps the Suns home mark. This is going to be a tough game. But not bereft of hope, mind you, evidenced by recent victories against the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies. The Suns even played the Clippers to a stalemate in LA for three quarters before succumbing in the 4th. No reason to quash the hope that the Suns can improve upon that in the friendly, though far from capacity as Dave informed us in his brilliantly concocted piece, confines of US Airways Center.

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What To Watch For:

Paul vs. Dragic: This matchup was dominated by Paul in the previous meeting. Dragic has tapered off after a better start to the season and is averaging paltry numbers of 13.2 points (on 42.5% shooting) and 6.3 assists for the month of December. He has been torched by Damian Lillard (25 points, 7 assists) and Kemba Walker (27 points, 6 assists) the last two games, though he did counterblast Walker's effort with 21 points (4-5 from three) and 11 assists of his own to record only his second double-double of the season. Goran needs to play better. If there is a player who can be a leader on this team, that's if, then it is Dragic. Hopefully he can start to turn it around tonight.

Luis Scola: Who will show up tonight, Luis Scola or Luis Scola? That isn't actually a paradox, because a player that is supposed to be a steady veteran presence has been anything but that recently. In the last seven games, Luis has recorded two double-doubles with 18 points and 10 rebounds against these Clippers and 14 points and 10 assists against Sacramento. He has also had three games where he scored six points or less and was summarily benched for being a pernicious force (to the Suns) on both ends of the court.

Rebounding: The Clippers are +1.6 in rebounding differential in the league (T-10th) while the Suns are -3.6 (T-25th). They crushed the Suns on the offensive glass 17-9 and were +4 overall in the last meeting. The Suns need to man up in this game and put butts on bodies.

Marcin Gortat/Jared Dudley: Gortat has recorded two double-doubles and is averaging 13 points and 11.3 rebounds over the last four games. The Suns need him to be a presence against the Clipper's bigs. Jared has averaged 16.7 points over the last six games (including three consecutive 20+ point efforts) and has been stuffing the stat sheet with a separate nine rebound and 10 assist effort over this stretch. Look for Dudley to recover from an 0-4 three point performance against Portland, as he has been shooting 46.7% from long range during the month of December.

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Key Stat: The Suns stand at 11-16 (13th place) at the one third point of the season. The last three seasons, only one team outside of the top eight in the Western Conference at the one third point has made the playoffs each year. The Grizzlies (10th) unseated the Rockets (8th) in 2011-12, the Grizzlies (11th) overtook the Jazz (4th) in 2010-11, and OKC (9th) upstaged the Rockets (6th) in 2009-10. The Suns have been 8-14 (12-15 at 27) and 13-14 at the one third point the last two seasons.

Going back to the expansion year of 2004-05, only one team that was 13th place or lower in the Western Conference has made the playoffs. The Sacramento Kings pulled off the feat and ascended from 13th to 8th and lost a first round series to the San Antonio Spurs.

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The Final Word(s):

While it is not preposterous that the Suns win this game, even the most ardent, optimistic fan will probably admit this will be a formidable obstacle. As illustrated by the previous statistical analysis, the Suns have a scintilla of margin for error if they still plan on making a run at the playoffs. No time like tonight to put a foot in the right direction of what appears to be an arduous path.

Plus, the Clippers have to lose eventually, so the Suns might as well play the role (we play roles well) of streakbusters.

Everyone have a happy and safe Christmas!

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This was a tough week to make the player rankings for the Phoenix Suns; with so many players doing pretty well overall, but no real stand-outs throughout the past three games. The Suns went 2-1 over the week beating the Charlotte Bobcats and the Sacramento Kings at home before losing a very winnable game against the Portland Trailblazers on the road last night.

Here's a look at this week's player rankings the way I saw them:

1. Marcin Gortat

Weekly Average: 13 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 blocks in 33 minutes of play; +8

Gortat seems to be climbing back out of his funk now after having an even better week than his last. This week he averaged a double-double for the first time in over a month, and actually played well defensively also. His very solid stats speak for themselves, but what really earned the top spot in this week's rankings for the Polish Machine was his overall consistency.

2. Jared Dudley

Weekly Average: 16 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds in 35 minutes of play; +5

Dudley had another really good week, and may have earned the top spot once again if not for a sub-par shooting performance against the Trailblazers last night going 0-4 from three and scoring only 8 points overall. Still, he managed to have a positive effect on the offense by registering 10 assists and also played pretty good defense on Batum, so even when his shot isn't falling like he would hope he still finds a way to help his team.

3. Goran Dragic

Weekly Average: 13 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds, 1.5 steals in 33 minutes of play; +9

Dragic had an up and down week offensively, scoring 8, 21, and 10 points respectively. Altogether, he shot only 40% from the field...not great. But what really concerns me as of late is his defense. This week, Dragic was outscored by each of his opponents Brooks, Walker, and Lillard. Of course you expect this from Lillard and maybe even Walker, but Brooks? I suppose my point is that I believe Dragic has the ability to be a much better defender than I have seen from him recently. He is a tall, fast, and pretty darn athletic point guard who should be able to win most match-ups...but he hasn't been. Still, he is the engine that makes this offense go, and we are a much better team with Dragic than we are without him.

4. Shannon Brown

Weekly Average: 21 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 assists in 36 minutes of play; +3

Brown was well on his way to becoming the Suns' #1 ranked player this week until his shooting percentage fell back down to Earth last night. Brown shot an astounding 77% against the Kings scoring 22 points, 63% against the Bobcats for 26 points, and then only 41% against the Blazers for 15 points. Still looking at his offense alone this week one would think he should be ranked even higher, but his defense is still a liability most of the time, and this causes his ranking to fall. Brown has the size, speed, quickness, and athleticism to defend any two-guard...If he can just focus a little more on this area of his game he could be a solid starter on almost any team in the league.

5. Jermaine O'Neal

Weekly Average: 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 Blocks in 14 minutes of play; +1

When O'neal plays, you know exactly what you are going to get from him. Hard-nosed, gritty play and great post defense against any opponent. I never feel worried when O'Neal replaces Gortat, even when Marcin is having a great game. As the Suns' best defender, O'Neal gives Phoenix size and strength in the post that slows the opponent's scoring dramatically and forces many more shot attempts outside of the paint. In my opinion, O'Neal was our best player off the bench this week.

6. Luis Scola

Weekly Average: 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assist in 29 minutes of play; +11

Scola had a good week overall, but really laid an egg on both ends of the court against the Blazers last night which dropped him in the weekly rankings. Scola was flat-out abused defensively by J.J. Hickson and only managed to score 6 points on 3-9 shooting as well. Scola is certainly limited against bigger, more athletic players, but he is the best overall option at power forward on most nights for what he can provide offensively.

7. P.J. Tucker

Weekly Average: 7 points, 2 rebounds in 14 minutes of play; +2

Tucker's stats once again don't reflect his true impact on the court, as he is constantly causing disruption with his energy and hustle. One area that I do think Tucker could improve in is rebounding. Tucker has the size (width) and strength to power his way inside and grab more boards than we've seen from him lately. He did this more at the beginning of the season, but he hasn't made the same impact in this area recently.

9, Sebastian Telfair

Weekly Average: 6 points, 3 assists, and 1 steal in 16 minutes of play; +2

Bassy can provide an instant spark off the bench, especially defensively. He plays with everything he's got and usually helps change the dynamic of the game when he's in. However, his ability to run the offense is still very limited, and the Suns often struggle to find open shots.

9. Markieff Morris

Weekly Average: 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assist, 1 steal in 15 minutes of play; -2

The one area of Markieff's game really holding him back is his inability to finish. I'm not sure what the cause is, but I keep hoping he will figure it out. I also think Keef has the ability to be a much better defender than we've see from him on a consistent basis. He really shines at times, and at others seems lackadaisical and unmotivated.

10. Michael Beasley

Weekly Average: 6 points, 1 rebounds, and 1assist in 12 minutes of play; +4

Beasley is still a complete mystery. All the talent but just can't seem to get things figured out upstairs. Don't let the misleading +4 fool you...he's not playing well. Suns' President Lon Babby recently referred to Beasley as a "long-term project". Let's just hope that means less time on the court now then.

So there you have it...Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments below!

Los Angeles Clippers 103, Phoenix Suns 77 Every winning streak must come to an end. After four consecutive victories, the Phoenix Suns fell last night in Portland 96-93. After a very tightly...

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Despite a recent four-game winning streak and what Jared Dudley classified as an encouraging loss to Portland last night, the Phoenix Suns face the prospect of being favored to win only two of the next 19 games (between now and January 31).

The Suns are pretty good at home, with a 9-5 record on the season including two recent wins against winning teams (Memphis and Utah). But that doesn't mean they should be favored to win two-thirds of their home games from here on out. Not against a parade of winning teams.

After the next month is over, the Suns could be facing the prospect of a 13-32 record and a bottom-five NBA ranking even if they keep playing at this recently-respectable and often-enjoyable level of play.

The schedule is just that daunting.

Home-cooking isn't always tasty

The Suns have nine home games between now and January 31, 2013, but only two of those games is against a team with a losing record (Philadelphia, Lakers). The other seven are against current playoff-eligible teams, which means none of those seven can be predicted wins for the Suns.

Sure there are two more home games in there against Utah and Memphis, who the Suns just beat last week, but to predict another pair of wins against those winning teams would be a break from the tenets of statistical modeling.

Even with the Suns at their high-water mark of the season (they hit #21 yesterday on Hollinger's stat-based daily power rankings!), the Suns are favored to win only one home game between now and the end of January. Take a look at the pic below to see the sked.

As bad as the upcoming home schedule looks, optimists can hold out hope the Suns can ride the home crowd to maybe a couple of upsets. Heck, the Clippers, Knicks and OKC are all due to lay an egg in the near future, while the Grizz, Jazz, Sixers, Bucks and Lakers are far from juggernauts.

The road is where the rubber meets the backside

As good as you might feel about the prospect of upsets at home keeping the Suns respectable, once you take a look at the road schedule your heart just has to drop.

The Suns play 11 road games before February 1, and only two of them are against teams currently sporting a losing record (Sacramento, Dallas). Only Sacramento is enduring a worse season than the Suns.

Ugh.

Considering the Suns just cannot yet find a way to win consistently on the road against anyone (2-11 on the season), let alone good teams, this next month could get ugly. U.G.L.Y. The Suns can only be favored to win ONE of 11 games: @ Sacramento. And that's only if Sacramento stays on its current head-scratchingly-bad course.

Adding it up

For those following along, that's only three of their next 19 games against a losing team (Sacramento, Philadelphia, Lakers). And of those three, only one of the teams has lost more than the Suns this season.

Ugh. Ugh. Triple ugh.

Take a look for yourself - I'd love to hear some predictions with a brighter side than mine.

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I truly hope the Suns garner some upsets and exceed expectations.

But even this most recent competitive edition of the Suns looks to hit this upcoming schedule like the subjects of that show 'Ridiculousness' on MTV: faceplant-style.

Enjoy the recent win streak as long as you can, fans. Because there won't be another one for a long time.

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Both the Suns and Blazers brought season-best four-game winning streaks along with them to Portland. J.J. Hickson was riding a six-game double-double streak for the Blazers, while Jared Dudley had scored 20 or more in three straight games. After the game in Portland, only one team would see their streaks continue. Unfortunately for us here on the Bright Side, that team wasn't the Suns.

Game Story

The Suns got off to a sloppy start in the first quarter, and were playing some pretty bad basketball. Yet a 6-2 run to close out the quarter once the Blazers went to their bench gave the Suns a 25-23 lead at the buzzer.

The Suns took control in the second quarter, with an all bench line-up (including the much maligned Michael Beasley) going on a 16-5 run against a weak Blazer bench. At halftime the Suns led 53-44 and things were looking good.

However, the game turned in the third quarter. The Blazers got it going on offense and the Suns couldn't find an answer. LaMarcus Aldridge, who the Suns had held to just eight points on seven shots in the first half, scored nine in the third quarter alone. The Blazers also got hot from deep, hitting four 3-pointers in the period. The Suns had no answer defensively and couldn't keep up offensively. The final damage was a 31-22 Portland period, erasing the deficit and tying the game at 75.

The two teams traded blows in the fourth quarter, and the game was tied at 82-82 with 7:04 remaining. From that point, Portland's rookie point guard Damian Lillard took over, scoring nine points in the final five minutes. The Blazers took a 64-87 lead with 3:24 left, and things weren't looking good for our Suns. But they managed to fight back and draw within one possession twice in the final minute-and-a-half. The first came on a Gortat pick-and-roll finish to cut it to 94-91 with 1:25 remaining. The Blazers struck back with a step-back jumper by Lillard, but the Suns countered with a layup by Jared Dudley to make it 96-93 with 38.9 seconds remaining. After a missed shot by Lillard, the Suns had a chance to tie the game up, getting the ball back with just under 15 seconds on the clock. The Suns pushed the ball in transition and Goran Dragic found himself open on the perimeter. However, Dragic never looked at the rim and instead passed the ball across the court. The Suns were forced to pass the ball around with no one able to break free before Dragic finally had to force up a tough shot with a second remaining that wasn't even close.

Guards

Goran Dragic got off to a great start in the first half with 10 points and three assists. He was aggressive and looking to attack, and knocked down a couple 3-pointers as well. But he disappeared in the second half, recording just two assists and missing every shot he took. And of course, there was that last possession...

Meanwhile, his Portland counterpart really got himself going in the second half and carried his team to the victory in the fourth.

Dragic finished with 10 points on 4-13 shooting and five assists, while Lillard scored 25 points on 7-13 shooting and dished seven assists.

I warned in my preview that we couldn't count on Shannon Brown to continue his hot shooting, and I'm sorry to say that I was dead on with that one. Brown finished with 15 points on 7-17 shooting, and also turned the ball over four times.

For the Blazers, Wesley Matthews only played 9:49 and did not score. Matthews recently returned from an injury, and he tweaked it again tonight and pulled himself out.

Forwards

Luis Scola had a terrible game for the Suns, as he was unable to get it going on offense and was torched defensively and was crushed on the boards. He finished with just six points and four rebounds, and played less than 20 minutes.

J.J. Hickson, on the other hand, put up a huge line with 19 points and 15 rebounds. The Suns couldn't keep him off the boards all game, and he made them pay.

Jared Dudley moved the ball extremely well, racking up 10 assists with only one turnover. However, he missed out on the double-double by scoring only eight points and bricking all four of his 3-point attempts.

Dudley also did a good job of holding Nicolas Batum in check scoring-wise, as the Portland forward only had 13 points on 12 shots, including 2-9 from 3-point range. Batum also dished out eight assists, but balanced that out with seven turnovers. He closed out his stat line with nine rebounds and two steals. Overall, a strange game from Batum.

Centers

Marcin Gortat had a great night offensively for the Suns, as he scored 18 points on 9-12 shooting and hauled in nine rebounds. Gortat was great every time the Suns went to him, finishing in the pick-and-roll, in the post and on the offensive glass. However, he and his fellow frontcourt members really struggled to keep Hickson off the glass.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who was questionable for the game after missing Portland's last game with an ankle injury, finsihed with 17 points on 5-15 shooting and nine rebounds. Outside of a short stretch in the third quarter, the Suns held Aldridge mostly in check for the second straight game.

Bench

I pointed to the bench as an area the Suns should have a big advantage in, and they made me look smart. Phoenix finished with a 36-22 edge in bench points and were led by the sprightly Jermaine O'Neal, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds. Markieff Morris also finished in double figures with 11, while Michael Beasley hit a 3-pointer and somehow led the Suns with a +15. P.J. Tucker and Bassy Telfair both had solid games as well.

Three of the Blazers' seven 3-point field goal came from the bench, and Victor Claver led their reserves with seven points, but overall the Blazer bench didn't have much of an effect. This game was won by the Portland starters.

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