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Look, at this point there is VERY little that the Phoenix Suns do on the court that is of interest to me. This season is good and thoroughly dead and buried. To the degree that anything still happening matters in the big picture, it's about individual players and perhaps anything we might glean about the coaching stylings of Mr. Lindsey Hunter.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, but watching the Suns vs Clippers game on Thursday morning (no, I don't stay up late to watch this team very often), something caught my eye regarding the the play of the perimeter defenders.

Most notably, the combination of über-aggressiveness combined with ever-changing coverages and assignments.

Here's what Interim Coach Hunter had to say about a game that saw the Suns give up 57 points in the first half and still score 50 to keep the game...not a blow out (yet).

Fight breaks out in 4th quarter of Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers game
"It was turnovers (21), it was a lack of execution and, in some cases, it was a lack of effort," Suns interim coach Lindsey Hunter said.

That's fine. All those things are true. But how about the defense from the defensive specialist coach?

I'm going to show you two plays that typify the problems I saw. In both cases, poor Luis Scola has the unenviable task of trying to guard the monster DeAndre Jordan and trying to protect the rim. Not to pick on Scola, but he's not exactly well-suited for either task. And yet, as you will see, he's got no chance when guards enter the lane so easily.

This first play started when Jordan reached over Scola and back-tapped an offensive rebound which proceeded the sequence we see here with the P.J. Tucker closing out WAY too hard and getting easily beat off the dribble by the super quick still effective Caron Butler.

At the point, Scola steps out to stop penetration which leaves Jordan open for an easy lob-dunk.

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On the second play, Goran goes over the Blake Griffin screen to chase Willie Green into the lane. This time, Scola stays home on Jordan to protect the lob and gives up a layup to Green. There's very few NBA bigs who can both stop penetration and prevent their own man from dunking behind them. To say the least, Scola is not one of those guys.

Zhly_medium

Now, go back and watch both clips (no pun intended) again and focus on Markieff Morris. In both cases, Morris stays with Blake in what was obviously part of the game plan. Griffin, by the way, finished the game with just nine points. So congrats, you "shut him down" but put the rest of the front line in an impossible position.

OF COURSE, this is a problem the Clippers create for a lot of teams. They have a lot of talent and they are tough to defend. If you don't paste a defender to Griffin's hip, he's going to tear you apart. If you do, you open up other things. Congrats to the Clippers for (in this game at least) taking advantage of those advantages.

But still, I wonder about the decision to be so aggressive on the wings knowing you have so little ability to help in the paint. I'm also not seeing a lot of the simplification that Hunter talked about when taking over. I could be completely wrong, but it seems he's falling into the trap of trying to over-coach for each situation. This is very much a flaw of Mike D'Antoni's defensive style (yes, he has one).

Is this a player problem or is this Hunter's aggressive philosophy that served him so well in his own career in a different era not fitting in with today's NBA? This is one of many questions that Lance Blanks will have to answer when it comes time to replace or stick with Hunter.

Lindsey Hunter got his wish. Before the Phoenix Suns’ loss to the Pacers this week, he spent a pregame media meeting talking about his personality as a player that made a career as a defensive...

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Recap:

The Clippers started off the game on a 15-0 run. That's not a typo. Interestingly enough, the Suns followed suit with a 10-0 run of their own. The Suns failed to score in the first 4:14 of the game. Then LA failed to score in the next 3:29. At the end of this bizarre exchange the Clippers led 15-10. Chris Paul picked up his second personal foul with 3:51 left in the quarter and went to the bench with LA leading 19-10, but the Suns were unable to capitalize in terms of closing the gap. Score: Clippers 29, Suns 19.

After going to Jermaine O'Neal at the end of the first quarter, the Suns went back to the well to start the second. A ferocious put back dunk early in the period gave O'Neal a game high 10 points. A unit of O'Neal, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson and Kendall Marshall hung tight with the Clippers, even closing the margin to three at 38-35, emboldened by a sparkling performance from JO. Beasley kept the Suns close with six points late in the quarter, and a defensive sequence that made Griffin look particularly foolish, but the Clippers were able to maintain a tenuous grip on their lead going into halftime. Score: Clippers 57, Suns 50.

O'Neal finished with 14 points (leading all scorers) and six rebounds in the half. Goran Dragic was miserably ineffective, finishing with zero points (on 0-5 shooting), two turnovers, three personal fouls and only three assists as an inadequate counterbalance. After starting the game 1-13 from the field the Suns made 18 of their next 32 attempts. After starting the game, Markieff Morris played a team low seven minutes among the nine players that entered the game. DeAndre Jordan recorded a relatively rare first half double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Paul fought off two early fouls to finish the half with 10 points, five assists and zero turnovers. Paul was partially responsible for engineering a first half with only two giveaways for the Clippers. LA doubled up the Suns in points in the paint (36-18) and tripled them up in fast break points (12-4).

Dragic came out in the second half looking to atone for an underwhelming first half with six early points and a deft drive resulting in a dazzling two handed dunk, but his effort largely didn't translate to positive results. Goran's renewed vigor also appeared to elicit a resounding rebuttal from Paul, unfortunately, and Dragic was busy collecting his fourth foul while Paul was busy distributing his eighth assist. A 15-2 run by the Clippers (the Suns sure are adept at giving up soul crushing runs) pushed the lead to 17, the largest of the game, at 77-60. Yes, the Suns were only down 62-58 at one point in the quarter. The 15-2 run ballooned to a 29-8 run as the Suns became the victims of a highlight reel that resembled a crime scene. The Suns were savagely beaten in the quarter to the tune of 38-20. Score: Clippers 95, Suns 70.

A scrum early in the fourth quarter was the first time the Suns showed any life in the second half. Dragic got entangled with Ryan Hollins and had a difficult time extricating himself from a quasi-headlock. Beasley was ejected, along with Hollins, after coming to Goran's aid by entering the fray and and participating in an ensuing shoving match with Hollins. Akin to most NBA "fights", it was mostly just bluster and bravado. This was the last semi-entertaining portion of the game as the Suns cozied up to another blowout loss like a lazy dog in front of a warm fire.

Final score: Clippers 126, Suns 101.

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Player of the Game:

Chris Paul. 15 points, 12 assists, four steals and zero turnovers. He is the catalyst for this Clippers squad and tonight was a pretty blatant example of the difference between an elite point guard and a good point guard.

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Comments of the Game:

Remember when we used to be good enough to win the division?

Yeah.

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Remember the good old days...

When we had Matt Barnes?

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Ryan Hollins scored. That sentence makes me very sad.

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DeAndre COULD average more than .4 assists a game

He just doesn't want to.

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DRAGON SLAM!!!!!!!!!!

WOOT

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Remember the good ol days,

When this was a close game?

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Clippers have made 14 of last 16 shots.

So... are we supposed to be improving our defense or what? The Clips could have done that with us still in the locker room.

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Morris a stellar 1-8 tonight, Dragic chips in with a 3-10 game with 5 turnovers, Beasley a +4 but ejected, the other Morris scrub a permanent bench warmer, Wesley had a good game but a -28.

The Suns future.

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The Good:

Jermaine O'Neal had another one of his stout, stellar showings. His talents are being wasted on this team as he approaches the waning stage of his career. I'm sure Jermaine is ecstatic to be healthy again and playing productively, but I can't imagine his competitive nature has been satiated by the downward spiral this season has devolved into.

Michael Beasley did Goran a solid by standing up for his teammate. In a season full of questionable decisions I think he finally got one right.

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The Bad:

The Suns did their best somnambulist impersonation to start the game and found themselves down by 15 points before they stirred from their slumber. The Suns keep it real with their consistent effort. #Play48

That was a bush league move by Ryan Hollins to instigate the commotion at the start of the fourth quarter. I don't understand his motivation, either, since the game was about as heated as an icebox.

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The Ugly:

The third quarter. The Suns made a mockery of the competitive nature of the game by displaying their alarmingly frequent "all quit" mentality. The Suns have revealed a prolific proclivity to lay down and die since Hunter took over the head coaching position. Coincidence?

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Final Thoughts:

This game was probably decided before Markieff Morris and DeAndre Jordan took center court for the opening tip. The Clippers are a good team. The Suns are not. Games where Suns fans can walk away feeling proud of their team have been few and far between as this season has pathetically trudged along. Tonight was not one of those rare occasions.

I was a little nonplussed as to why Kendall Marshall sat the entire second half while Goran Dragic was still on the court during garbage time (which comprised the entire fourth quarter). The guy (Goran) who couldn't even play last week due to "exhaustion" is now on the court in the closing minutes of a blowout loss... Maybe Hunter is trying to send another message. Just add this to a stack of inscrutable in game moves made by the Suns recently.

Also, thanks Utah.

Time: 7:30 p.m. MST TV: FSA Surprisingly, the lottery-bound Phoenix Suns find themselves in the same predicament as do the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers. Seriously. Both teams are...

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Tonight's matchup features two teams on the opposite ends of the NBA spectrum. While the Clippers are near the zenith of their franchise history and are gearing up for what they hope to be an extended playoff run, the Suns are stumbling along near their nadir as they approach the seemingly inexorable and dubious distinction of finishing with the second worst record in franchise history.

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When: Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 7:30 PM local time (10:30 EST)

Where: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA

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

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Last Meeting:

The Suns beat the Clippers 93-88 in Phoenix on January 24th. The game featured a game high 24 point (including a season high 14 free throw attempts), 8 assist performance by Goran Dragic, who took full advantage of Chris Paul being out of the Clippers lineup with a bruised right kneecap.

Los Angeles holds a 2-1 lead in the season series based on two earlier blowout victories.

Team Bios:

Los Angeles Clippers: 49-26

Points per game: 100.7 (9th) Points allowed: 94.7 (94.7)

Full team statistics.

As previously mentioned, the Clippers trajectory is the exact antipode relative to the Suns. LA's current 49 wins ties the most in franchise history. A win against Phoenix tonight would give the Clippers their first 50 win season in 43 seasons of routinely terrible basketball.

Despite that rarified air, the Clippers have limped to four losses in their past five games. Los Angeles will try to use tonight's game as a tune up/slumpbuster before having three days off to prepare for a Sunday ABC contest against the Lakers.

The Clippers are led by the inimitable Chris Paul (second in the league in assists and first in steals) and athletic phenom Blake Griffin, but are both talented and deep.

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Phoenix Suns: 23-51

Points per game: 94.5 (22nd) Points allowed: 101.0 (23rd)

Full team statistics.

The Suns are in freefall. In what has been a rudderless season, the Suns have been outdoing themselves of late. A loss tonight would give Phoenix their most defeats (12) in any 14 game stretch this season. Just when you think they've hit bottom somebody tosses them another shovel.

One of the few lambent lights penetrating the gloaming of this season has been the play of Goran Dragic. After a less than spectacular patch in the middle of the season Goran has elevated his level of play to the tune of 16.1 points and 8.5 assists during the recently completed month of March.

Besides Goran and a few transitory glimpses of hope from some of the younger players, most fans seem to be more expectantly awaiting the draft lottery selection show than the remaining games on the schedule. The Suns still need 5 wins to avoid the ignominious feat of finishing all alone with the second worst record in franchise history... and that isn't going to happen.

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What To Watch For:

Jared Dudley: Considering the Suns have very little hope of winning this game, maybe JD can make things interesting based on the comity between Griffin and him.

Dragic/Paul: It will be interesting to see how Dragic comports himself in this game with respect to his recent improved play. Going against Chris Paul should be an excellent litmus test.

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2013 Lottery Watch

The Suns are currently in fourth place in the race for the #1 seed in the lottery, just a half game behind the Cavaliers for third. Using their recent play as a barometer it is beginning to appear that Phoenix will finish no worse than their present position. What may be a deciding factor in the battle for third is the Suns' season sweep of Cleveland, which will result in the Suns losing the tiebreaker.

Lakers Lottery Pick Update:

The Lakers decimated the Dallas Mavericks last night in what was almost surely an elimination game for Dallas. Instead of providing a fervid performance due to the gravity of the situation, the Mavericks practically seemed disinterested and failed miserably with their playoff aspirations on the line. What could have been a crushing blow to the Lakers instead propelled Los Angeles back to a dead heat with the Utah Jazz. Thanks Dallas.

Utah has a pivotal game at home against the Denver Nuggets who, while obviously a superior team, are just 17-21 on the road compared to Utah's 28-9 home record. Go Utah. As the table below indicates, this race may be a photo finish.

Playoff_watch_4

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The Final Word(s):

The Suns (7-29 on the road) are facing an uphill battle against the Clippers (28-9 at home). And by uphill I mean a sheer cliff face. Completely vertical.

But weirder things have happened and I'm still interested in watching Goran and the other young "talent" on the roster. The way this season is winding down the games are all win win. Either you can celebrate a rare Suns' victory or you can celebrate improving lottery odds.

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