Last night the Phoenix Suns lost a hard fought (at least offensively) game to the San Antonio Spurs at home. Tonight the 25-25 Suns will try to win their third game against the 28-21 L.A. Clippers on the road to go 3-0 against them so far, and more importantly, to get back to a winning record and one game closer to a playoff berth.
The L.A. Clippers have won their last four games at home. In fact, their last loss at the Staples Center came at the hands of the Suns on March 15th when Phoenix shocked nearly everyone by beating the Clippers without both Steve Nash and Grant Hill. If the Suns are looking to repeat that winning formula then tonight would be a great time since Grant Hill is questionable with a strained knee, and Steve Nash is apparently having back problems again after it tightened up on him in last night's loss to the Spurs.
How will the Suns respond after last night's game? Will Shannon Brown continue his hot streak tonight? Will Jared Dudley score more than two points? Answers to these questions and more after the jump...
Here is a look at the Clippers:
The Clippers now have five players averaging double-digits in scoring (minus Billups). That's one more than they had the last time the Suns faced the Clippers ... before they added Nick Young in a trade at the deadline. However, Mo Williams is out with a toe injury so that evens it up a bit. Still, the Clippers are a very talented team, at least offensively, and the Suns will certainly have their hands full against a team who has been playing very well at home lately.
Steve Nash vs. Chris Paul - This will be a battle between two of the best point guards in the game, both of whom have a tremendous b-ball I.Q. and ability to make other players around them better. However, only one of these two point guards is a former two-time MVP and still leading the league in assists at the ripe young age of 38. But still, in their first meeting (the only in which Nash played), Paul got the upper hand with 16 points and 5 assists to Nash's 6 points and 6 assists. However, that was likely more of an aberration than evidence of superior skills. Nash is averaging 13 points and 11 assists per game to Paul's 19.5 points and 8.6 assists ... fairly difficult to put one ahead of the other. This match-up could go either way tonight; let's just hope Nash's back is feeling better today (Advantage - Push)
Marcin Gortat vs. DeAndre Jordan - The last time these two teams met, Gortat had one of his worst games of the season scoring only 8 points on 3-10 shooting and grabbing only 6 rebounds ... but that was also without Steve Nash. DeAndre Jordan on the other hand scored 11 points and grabbed 9 boards, which is slightly higher than his average of 7.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. When Gortat is playing well he's just a better player than DeAndre. And as long as Nash plays tonight I think Marcin has the clear-cut edge in this match-up. (Advantage - Suns)
Channing Frye vs. Blake Griffin - This match-up may seem like a no-brainer to most, and if I hadn't already seen the first two meetings between these two teams I would probably agree. In their first meeting this season, Frye limited Blake defensively and held him to only 17 points on 6-19 shooting and 7 rebounds. Frye on the other hand only scored 6 points but managed to grab 14 rebounds. Griffin fared better in the second meeting scoring 25 points on 12-18 shooting and grabbing 8 rebounds. Frye scored 12 points and grabbed just 6 boards. If Frye can defend Blake as well as he did in the first meeting and also grab over 10 rebounds in this game then I really like the Suns chances. But still, Blake is clearly the better player and one of the biggest threats offensively that the Suns will have to account for and he will likely be the key to the game. (Advantage - Clippers)
Suns' Wings vs. Clippers' Wings - Rather than breaking down each player, I figured I would lump them all together as one for each team since both the Suns and the Clippers have a lot of talent at this position. For the Suns this includes Grant Hill, Jared Dudley and Shannon Brown. For the Clippers this includes Nick Young, Caron Butler and Randy Foye. This is a hard one to call based on the uncertainty of Grant Hill's status, but if I go with the assumption that Grant Hill will play tonight and be given the task of shutting down their most dangerous wing (Nick Young), then I love this match-up for the Suns. If not, well it suddenly gets much more complicated. But still, with Dudley hitting a hot streak with the exception of last night, and now more Shannon Brown added into the mix I would still give the Suns the edge here. (Advantage - Suns)
The Suns have already shown they can beat the Clippers, and have done so in the last four consecutive meetings. After last night's loss the Suns need to re-establish themselves in the playoff hunt with a win in L.A. tonight, and I believe Alvin Gentry and Elston Turner will have them mentally and emotionally prepared to do just that. Shannon Brown has really come on strong lately and his previous scoring high for the season before last night's 32 points was his 21 points in the last game against the Clippers. I think Gentry will play him early and often even if Grant Hill returns to the starting line-up. Jared Dudley has also been huge for the Suns lately, and despite his disappearance against the Spurs he has been the Suns leading scorer in the month of March, so I expect another big game from him tonight.
The bottom line is that the Clippers are a very beatable team for the Suns, and they have played them very well in their first two meetings. I think the players on this Suns team really believe in themselves and each other, and their chemistry on and off the floor has really helped them in turning this season around. Tonight will be a very important game for the Suns which will help determine whether or not they make the playoffs. With all that is riding on this game I expect the Suns to come out playing inspired and with purpose, and I believe the Suns should be able to finish this series against the Clippers with another win.
Clipper Steve from Clips Nation was kind enough to answer questions you submitted for this expert in all things Lob City. And in a sign of good internet sharing and caring, I answer questions from Clippers fans about the Phoenix Suns.
Here's your questions and Steve's answers.
Here are my answers to questions submitted by the Bright Side of the Sun community. I tried to answer all of them, though I may have missed a few. In a couple of cases I grouped similar questions together and answered them together. I thought there were some really good questions.
oLLiE Boombayay: Who would be a good fit as a coach to replace
Scott Baio Vinny Del Negro as coach to help the Clips make better use of all that talent? He seems a bit over his head. Surely his days are numbered.
Nuuri: If the Clippers look for another coach, will the Clippers management consult their players? If so, who amongst the players would be listened to most?
Steve Perrin: He is in over his head and his days are numbered -- but the number is in the fifties or sixties probably, not in single digits. The Clippers have an option year for him next season, but they won't exercise it. They'll have a new coach next season, but it's looking like Vinny will finish out this season. My thinking is that if they were going to make a move, last Friday after the loss in New Orleans was the time to do it -- it was already really late to be bringing in a new coach with 19 games left and it gets later every day they wait. The fact that they've happened to win two since then makes it that much more likely that VDN will survive the season. But anything less than the NBA Finals in the playoffs, which seems pretty unlikely, and he won't be back.
From my perspective, the most important thing about his replacement isn't fit so much as simply getting a good coach. Most NBA coaches are pretty interchangeable -- talent is still the biggest factor in team success, and most coaches aren't going to have a huge impact for good or for ill. But there do seem to be a few that can make a difference. I put Gregg Popovich and Rick Adelmann (and not many others among active coaches) into the difference maker category. Amazingly, there are also four coaches who I consider in that top tier who are not currently coaching. Those are Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Mike D'Antoni and Nate McMillan.
I think Jackson and Sloan are non-starters. Jackson is happy in his current retirement, and he's not coming back to work for Donald Sterling -- nor is Sterling going to pay him what it would take to get him back in the gym. Sloan is intriguing at first -- the idea of turning Paul and Griffin into a modern day version of Stockton and Malone is tantalizing. But Sloan is very old school, and given that a conflict with Deron Williams was a big part of his Utah departure, I don't see him wanting to deal with a superstar system featuring Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. It might work out great -- Griffin and Paul are kind of throwbacks, the only two Clippers without tattoos after all -- but somehow I think the NBA of 2012 may have passed Sloan by, that he won't do the obligatory ego massaging.
I'd be thrilled with either D'Antoni or McMillan. The Clippers biggest issue right now is definitely defense, so maybe D'Antoni isn't a great fit to fix that, but if the offense is good enough, who cares? Chris Paul in the role of Steve Nash? And I've always used a young Amare Stoudemire as a comparison for Griffin. As Jafar might say, the idea has merit.
But my first choice would be McMillan. He just always has gotten results in Seattle and Portland. His teams move the ball, they play good defense, and they've always given great effort, despite some huge obstacles. The injury issues he dealt with in Portland were absurd, yet somehow he always kept that team competitive. I think McMillan would be a great choice, not necessarily because of any stylistic compatibility, but because the guy can coach.
Given the importance of keeping Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in town, I feel rather certain that both of them would be consulted at some level on the coaching decision. If a new coach is coming in for the 12-13 season, presumably Griffin would be already locked up in a long term extension about the same time, so Paul becomes the crucial piece. For what it's worth, Bill Simmons (who originally decreed that VDN was on "super-thin ice") says that D'Antoni won't happen because of Paul -- that Paul's friendship with Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler somehow precludes it because of "what went down in NY". Whatev.
blank_38: What are your expectations for Nick Young?
SmokinKieff: How did you guys rob Washington blind? and did David Stern have anything to do with it?
SP: The Clippers gave up nothing to get Young, so anything they get from him is gravy. He fills a gaping hole in their roster for a two guard with even a little size -- Jared Dudley posting up Randy Foye and Mo Williams all night long is a problem. So if he can work hard on defense, help out on that end, and hit open threes, it's a big win for the team. With Williams currently hurt, Young is now in the 'second unit scorer' role, which suits him pretty well. I will say that so far I'm not that impressed with his offense. The big plus in theory is that he can get his own shot -- I guess, but it's pretty much always a terrible one.
The story of how the Clippers got a pretty good player for nothing at their very position of need is an interesting one. It's a little long, but feel free to read the unabridged version. Basically, Washington had to include Young to get Nene, and the only place he was only willing to go to was L.A.
blank_38: Did Blake Griffin take acting lessons from Tim Duncan this off-season? I find him holding his head after getting foul calls a lot more than I should.
SP: Blake honed his "attention getting skills" (we'll call it that, but you know what I mean) during his rookie season. We noticed pretty distinctly on Clips Nation -- we call it the head snap. He didn't do it early in his rookie season, and then he started doing it -- and guess what? He started getting a lot more calls.
You can be a purist and disparage him for flopping, but there are three things you need to keep in mind: (1) Griffin does take a ton of abuse out there -- it's not all one big act; (2) everybody does it to a greater or lesser extent; and (3) it works. I would love for NBA referees to stop falling for this kind of crap. I would love for the league office to review game tapes and hand out fines for the more egregious cases of pure acting (which Blake is not one of those imo). But I've watched Griffin get rewarded time and again, and frankly in a competitive game, you'd be wrong not to seek every advantage.
phxpurple: would you trade klove for blake griffin str8 up? I.E. fundamentals vs. shiny dunks
SP: This is a great question. The short answer is no, I wouldn't. But it's more complex that that.
Kevin Love is better than Blake Griffin right now. There, I said it. I've heard lots of people try to use that as a weapon, to try to hurt Blake Griffin with it. It's not an insult to Griffin. It's a compliment to Kevin Love, who is ungodly good. But Griffin's in his second season while Love is in his fourth -- Love's big jump came in his third season, bear in mind.
But I'm not even saying that I think Griffin will be better than Love in two years -- maybe he will and maybe he won't. For what it's worth, I believe that Griffin's ceiling is higher, because Griffin can learn to do what Love does, but Love can never become the athlete Griffin is.
But the reason I wouldn't make this trade is because I have become attached to Griffin. That sounds silly, but there's validity to that reasoning. GMs become attached to their own players too, and that's OK to some extent, because fans become attached to players too -- and GMs need to be cognizant of what the fans are thinking. Clippers fans adore Blake Griffin -- he's the face of the franchise, he is the guy that is transitioning them into relevance. Chris Paul is great, but he's more like the hired gun who comes in to save the day -- Griffin is a draft pick, he started as a Clipper, and there's value to that. If the trade you suggest were to happen, it might take all of 5 minutes for the fans to embrace Love -- but something would be loss nonetheless.
I grew up a Dodgers fan. When I was a kid, the Dodgers infield was Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey -- from the time I was a fifth grader until I was a freshman in college! I realize that era of pro sports is over, but there's still value to loyalty. Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant -- as long as there's a chance Griffin will be a good in the long run as Love (which there is), then why give up on the idea that Griffin will be a Clipper-for-life? I really think there's value in that.
forget: You've had some time to observe how the team will function without Chauncey Billups, do you think this team has a chance to win the west without him? If not, where do the Clippers need to improve?
SP: I suppose the Clippers have a punchers chance in the West. Chris Paul can dominate a playoff series -- we've seen him do it. If the jump shots are falling for Mo Williams and Nick Young and Caron Butler, then sure, the Clippers would have a chance. Truthfully, other than the Thunder, there's no team in the West that is super intimidating. Back in January the Clippers were playing as well as any of them. They'd have to get back to that, but it's possible.
I'm a bit in the minority here, but I don't think that Billups is a major factor. I don't think they'd have that much better of a chance with Billups. A lot would have to go right either way. It's worth noting that the Clippers are 4-0 at home since Billups re-joined the team post achilles surgery -- that's after going 2-5 in their prior 7 home games. Looking at the numbers, I don't see that Billups adds a tremendous amount on the floor -- the Clippers happen to be pretty deep at guard, especially now with Young. His locker room impact is tough to measure -- but they may be getting that anyway now that he's back with the team.
BritishSun: Chances CP3 is a Clipper in 13-14?
SP: I'd say they're pretty good. When Dwight Howard waived his ETO, it definitely sent a chill down the spines of Clippers fans. Having Howard and Paul synched up for free agency is not a happy thought in the era of the SuperFriends. But how many teams are going to clear enough cap space to sign both of them? And would they put Paul in a better situation than he has with the Clippers? When Griffin signs his extension in July 2012 (and he will -- no rookie has ever turned down a max extension, and he won't be the first), it will be with the understanding that Paul will re-up as well. There will be pressure on Paul NOT to leave a team for the second time in 18 months. Besides, watching CP3 on Leno and Kimmell in December, I got the distinct impression that he understands what an advantage it is to be in L.A. Market matters, and he's not going to do much better than his current situation where that is concerned.
OmahaSun: What is going on with CP3? I expected much more from him this season. Is he being held back by Del Negro and his system? Does he not have good chemistry with his teammates? What's going on? 19.5 and 8.6 is good, but I considered Chris Paul a top 5 player in the entire NBA, and he hasn't been that this season.
SP: Wow. Dude's got the fourth best PER in the league behind LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant, and you're disappointed? When you say he hasn't been top 5 this year but he was before, I'm not sure where you're getting that. His numbers this season are much better than his last two years in New Orleans. They're not as good as pre-surgery CP3 in 08-09, but he should have won the MVP that year, and he'll probably never be that good again. But if you want him to be top 5, well, he kinda is.
Having said that, he does not have great on court chemistry with Blake Griffin at this point. Griffin had a much more intuitive connection with Baron Davis in fact. Paul's got nice rapport with DeAndre Jordan, as he did with Tyson Chandler in New Orleans. But synergy with Griffin is still a work in progress. Hopefully it gets there.
jc79: As a Clips fan, do you find yourself waiting for some sort of inevitable misfortune to befall your team?
Scott Howard: How are you?
SP: I'm fine, thank you for asking. I do a lot of these Q&As, and almost no one ever asks me that. It's nice to know someone cares. How are you?
Ceek: Is it true that the Clippers happiness is compounded and bolstered by Laker tears? I know ours is.
SP: Of course. I think this is true for all true fans. As the old proverb says, "May the desert bloom with the tears of the Lakers." Or something like that. Of course, it may be a little more true for Clippers fans, as it goes beyond simple schadenfreude. The Lakers take up a lot of the oxygen in L.A. -- knocking them down even just a little bit gives a little breathing room to the Clippers.
NashMV3: Given the choice of either Donald Sterling or David Kahn, which is the lesser of 2 evils?
SP: I think Omaha Sun answered this correctly in the comments. "Sterling actually is evil. Kahn is just incompetent." In an evil contest, Kahn doesn't stand a chance against Sterling.
djturbolence: If you could propose any trade between LAC and PHX what would it be? Also, is Blake approaching a plateau as far as offensive production?
SP: The one trade I've thought of between the Suns and the Clippers is Ryan Gomes for Josh Childress -- trading for each other's problems. Gomes is even more useless than Childress, but his contract only last one more year, so I assume the Suns would jump at this trade. Childress' contract is of course why the Clippers wouldn't do it, but they could sure use some help at small forward, and I'm not convinced that Childress couldn't help there.
Griffin won't plateau any time soon, provided he continues to develop his game. The scary thing about him is that he's got so much head room. His jump shot is improving but can still get a lot better, and he has no go to post move. He gets almost all of his points from simply being a superior athlete. When he adds more polish and technique to his game, which I believe he will, he'll become almost unstoppable.
The Phoenix Suns players were disappointed with the way they defended the San Antonio Spurs and they weren't pleased with the scoring drought that came during a stretch of the fourth quarter. Those things cost them the game and they shouldn't be pleased.
They expect to win every time they play.
We, however, have no such expectations. Sure, they can win any game, but the Spurs are damn good and without their best perimeter defender (Grant Hill) and with a banged up Steve Nash (back tightened) this really was going to be a tall task.
The game was, however, highly entertaining and at times seriously hilarious. I had fun watching it and folks, what more can we realistically ask for? This is the entertainment business after all.
Here's some video from after the game, including Shannon Brown dropping a reference to his championship experience.
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Game highlights after the jump.