After stumbling to a 2-3 record on their five game homestand the Phoenix Suns embark on a six game road trip with a pit stop in Los Angeles against the Clippers before traveling across the country for games against Eastern Conference opponents.
When: Saturday November 15, 2014, 8:30 PM local time (10:30 EST)
Where: STAPLES Center Los Angeles, CA
Watch/Listen: TV: FOX Sports Arizona Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
The Suns and Clippers faced off in a preseason game at the STAPLES Center on October 22nd in which starters for both teams logged heavy minutes. LA pulled out a narrow 108-105 victory behind the heroics of Chris Paul (34 points, 9 assists, 4 steals) and Blake Griffin (35 points, 7 rebounds). Eric Bledsoe led the Suns with 27 points while Gerald Green chipped in 23 off the bench.
The game was tightly contested throughout and Marcus Morris gave the Suns a one point lead on a three pointer with 1:46 remaining, but Spencer Hawes responded with a layup for the Clippers to give LA the lead for good. Gerald Green missed a three pointer before the buzzer that would have tied the game.
This is the first regular season game between the teams this season. The Clippers won last season's series 3-1.
Los Angeles Clippers: 4-3
Points per game: 100.7 (15th) Points allowed: 101.7 (21st)
ORtg: 106.7 (14th) DRtg: 107.8 (22nd)
The usual suspects are still here. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick compose a harrowing starting five. The usual results are not. A Clippers team that surely had preseason aspirations of seizing the NBA's best regular season record has sputtered out of the gate.
The Clippers high octane offense that was first in the league in points per game and offensive rating in the 2013-14 season has been sedately middle of the pack this campaign. LA had some time this week (four days off) to reflect on their shortcomings and work out the kinks since their last game was a Monday home loss (89-85) to the San Antonio Spurs.
Key offseason acquisition Spencer Hawes has been pitifully wretched in the early going. After averaging 13.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season he is managing just 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds so far this season. His .416 shooting percentage from thee point range has dropped declivitously to .231. Hawes is averaging just 17.0 minutes per game, by far his lowest total since his rookie season seven years ago.
The Clippers may also be adjusting to life without backup point guard Darren Collison, who left the team last summer to take a starting role with the Sacramento Kings. Collison averaged 11.4 points and 3.7 assists for LA last season. The Clippers haven't found a playmaker to take the reins while Paul sits this season, with only Griffin (3.6) and Jamal Crawford (2.8) averaging more than two assists per game.
Phoenix Suns: 5-4
Points per game: 103.7 (10th) Points allowed: 103.3 (24th)
ORtg: 106.2 (15th) DRtg: 105.9 (18th)
22 out of 31.
22 out of the Suns next 31 games will be on the road starting with tonight's matchup against the Clippers that begins a six game, 10 day road trip. That is some kind of brutal.
Unfortunately, the Suns couldn't manage to close out the get away game against the Charlotte Hornets last night and finished a five game homestand at a disappointing 2-3. At least the Hornet loss wasn't as vexing as their recent 114-112 double overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings in which the team squandered a multitude of opportunities. Charlotte just played parsimonious defense and executed on offense when they needed to down the stretch. It was actually kind of a clinic, giving an example of what the Suns need to aspire to.
The Suns are still searching for their identity, while sporadically fluctuating in and out of periods of maddening inconsistency. Finding the right combinations and playing time for the team's four top guards seems to be the biggest stumbling block. Not only does the team have three starting quality point guards (Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe), but shooting guard Gerald Green could start for many teams and is definitely deserving of regular rotation minutes.
To this point, it has been the two reserves, Thomas and Green, who have played a bigger role in the team's early success. In the team's five wins Thomas is averaging 22.2 points per game and Green 17.4. Bledsoe has averaged just 11.8 points in the wins. Interestingly enough, Bledsoe is averaging 19.5 points per game in the team's four losses.
Isaiah has scored 20+ points in all five wins. Eric has scored 20+ points in three of the four losses. Thomas is +13 in point differential (third on the team behind the Morris brothers) while Bledsoe is -7 (worst among the team's rotation players). The team has been better with Isaiah playing and Eric sitting in the inchoate stages of the season. This just doesn't seem like a recipe for success.
Three point shooting, which should be a weapon for the Suns, also needs to improve on both ends of the court. The Suns are managing just .329 from deep this season (18th) after hitting .372 (8th) of their attempts last season.
The Suns are also allowing .368 (21st) to their opponents after finishing second in the NBA in three point defense (.342) last season. In football there is an idiom - run the football, stop the run. For the team the Suns have currently constructed it should be - shoot the three, stop the three. This trend will need to be corrected.
Guard play for the Suns is an obvious evolving drama that is worthy of a watchful eye on a nightly basis. The Clippers are one of few teams in the NBA that can stake a claim to being superior to the Suns in this facet (Paul, Crawford, Redick). Bledsoe's body language was bad during the two fourth quarters he sat while Thomas played. Isaiah has been on the record recently professing he still aspires to be a starter. Green is playing for his last big contract. Goran's numbers have shriveled from last season's breakout All-NBA performance. Dragic is in a contract year, too. Eventually this situation may reach a boiling point, especially if the team doesn't enjoy success. Hopefully it does.
The Clippers are dead last in the NBA in rebounding differential (-6.7). They weren't particularly good last season, either, finishing 20th (-.7). The Suns should have a chance to win this battle. How Markieff Morris handles heavy minutes against Blake Griffin might make the difference here.
This is a hard one to call for me. Maybe it shouldn't be.
A Clippers team that is supposed to be better playing at home on four days rest against a team that lost a tough game the previous night doesn't really sound too difficult to call.
Still, the Suns have a lot of players that can heat up and LA hasn't been clicking to this point. Maybe this will be a game where the Suns start to figure some things out.
Starting off this road trip on the right foot would be huge, though, because the road (and I mean road) ahead is pretty daunting.
I'll reluctantly go with Clippers 113, Suns 106.
The Phoenix Suns aren't the only team underperforming out of the gate this season. The Los Angeles Clippers are barely above even themselves. ClipsNation shares some insights on the season, and one of the Clips' former players Eric Bledsoe.
The Phoenix Suns (5-4) start a six-game road trip tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers (4-3). Neither team is playing up to their potential. Today, we talk to Justin Russo, aka FlybyKnite, of our sister SBNation site ClipsNation to get the inside scoop on the Clippers' start.
Dave: The Clippers have started out a bit slow this year, at least compared to some preseason pundits who expected them to lead the league in wins this season. Is their struggle and example of unrealistic expectations? Or are the Clippers really having troubles? Or both?
ClipsNation's FlybyKnite: I think it's two-fold. I think they're struggling to deal with the expectations of being a top Western Conference team, or even a top team in the NBA, and it's sort of got them in this "we'll flip the switch when we need to" mode. Except it doesn't work like that and teams are genuinely not going to be pushovers. You can't just flip the switch and expect things to work out. The other side of it is I think the team is going through some early season ruts due to injuries and bugs. Last weekend, Blake Griffin was dealing with what sounded like the flu and DeAndre Jordan had to deal with it on Monday night against the Spurs. Plus, Griffin had a small fracture in his lower back during the offseason which is why he didn't play for Team USA so that really might be hampering him early on in the year. He's just not as explosive as he has been. So, I do believe they're having some troubles but I think the troubles will work themselves out as the season trudges along.
Dave: As a casual Clipper fan, I love watching DeAndre Jordan play basketball. He's so impactful when he's making plays. But are Clipper fans as enamored with DJ? As talented as he is, is he the best defender he can be when he's not blocking shots?
Oh man, I might catch some flak for this one. There are Clippers fans who love DeAndre. Quite a bit, actually. And I totally get it. But he isn't the best defender he can be when he's not blocking shots. As solid of a shot-blocker as he is from the weakside at times, I genuinely don't even view him as a great, or even good, defender. I know there are others who will disagree with me but also some who would agree. He's not the problem on defense but he's also not what his numbers indicate he is. I'd say he's right around league average for his position when it comes to defense. He has a lot he can improve upon but I'm not sure he'll be able to. He is what he is right now and I think he's basically a maxed out defender who can give you highlight blocks and the occasional solid post defense but nothing much outside of that.
Dave: Chris Paul is a master and seems to want to show Eric Bledsoe he still rules the court whenever they play the Suns. This preseason, it seemed that Paul was doing whatever he could to will the Clippers to a win. And that was preseason. Is Paul just a killer against every team, or have Clipper fans noticed an uptick in play against Bledsoe too?
It's both. It's definitely both. Paul hates being outshined by anyone and really gets annoyed when opposing point guards try to one-up him. However, that Bledsoe matchup is one that really picks at him. He liked Eric but this is the master-student relationship still in Chris' eyes and I believe he wants to go out there and give Bledsoe a lesson in how point guards operate. That's not to say Bledsoe isn't great or anything. Bledsoe's fantastic. But it's these kind of matchups where you really see what drives Chris Paul inside. It's the fear of failure and getting outplayed by someone who you perceived as being beneath you. Fear can motivate people in crazy was and Chris is one of those guys. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But he's always going to give them hell.
Dave: Eric Bledsoe was a really good backup in Clipperland with a lot of potential. Do Clipper fans feel he has reached that potential yet after having such a good season last year? Or does he have room to grow (or drop)?
Honestly, I still think he has a world of room to grow. And, if I'm being honest, what he is today in Phoenix is not what he would have been if he had stayed with the Clippers. The Suns coaching staff should get a massive amount of credit for turning him into the player he is today. He's not as out of control as he was with the Clippers and they've done wonders with his jumper, both with results and with the look. It's aesthetically different and it's quite clear. I still think he's learning how to play basketball. Bledsoe has the ability to be one of the top five guards in the game since he's so ferocious defensively and then channels that ferocity offensively when driving to the hoop or running aggressive pick-and-rolls. The guy's a little dynamo and the sky's truly the limit for him. Imagine what he'll be like when his jumper gets more consistent and he's able to control things a tad more. Scary.
Dave: Finally, what is your prediction for the Suns and Clippers season series this year? Last year, it seemed that the games were weird. The Suns dished a blowout, as did the Clips, and the other two were much more closely contested with unexpected leaders being deciding factors (ie. Matt Barnes)?
I was actually in Staples Center in December when the Suns throttled the Clippers something fierce. That was a sight to behold, let me tell you. The series this year seems like it should be a good one. The Suns have a better bench this year thanks to Isaiah Thomas and the "likely to go nuts at any moment in good and bad ways" Gerald Green. The structure of the season series is weird, though. You guys are coming in on Saturday on a back-to-back and then you visit again in early December but then we don't see each other until late January and then the final matchup is on the second-to-last day of the season in Phoenix. Oddly enough, the Clippers and Suns are the only two teams in the NBA who won't play on the final day of the year. Weird. That matchup has the Clippers coming in on a back-to-back. So there're two back-to-back matchups, one apiece, and then one matchup at home against a rested opponent. Seems like that structure lends itself to a very hard fought season series and one that, like last year, could come back down to X-Factor candidates like Gerald Green, one of the Morrii, Alex Len, Matt Barnes, Spencer Hawes, or someone like that. When you get two good teams against each other in a series, there are always those games where someone breaks out randomly. As for the prediction, I'll say we split the season series with 2 wins apiece.
The Bakersfield Jam lost a thriller, but Phoenix Suns rookies T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis shined in their D-League debuts.
They filled up the box score for the Bakersfield Jam in the team's first game of the season, but the T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis and the Jam could not finish off the Texas Legends and eventually fall 127-125.
You can watch the entire game here and check out the full box score.
Warren scored in myriad ways, making 16 of 27 shots on the way to 40 points in 40 minutes of play. He drained 3 of 7 three-pointers, and also contributed 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and a block. Late in the game, Warren grimaced and grabbed his left thumb (previously broken this preseason) but stayed in the game.
Ennis was pretty darn good himself, making 11 of 23 shots (including 1 of 5 on threes) to score 25 points in 37 minutes while grabbing 6 rebounds, dishing 5 assists and making 3 steals.
Both players joined the Jam on Thursday, the day before the season began. The Jam, affiliated only with the Suns this season, is running the same offense and defense as the Suns, with head coach Nate Bjorkren having spent summer league and most of training camp with the Suns coaching staff.
Elijah Millsap, Paul's younger brother, contributed 21 points and 11 rebounds a week after being acquired in a trade on D-League Draft Day. Suns training camp invitees Jamil Wilson had 17 points (3 for 4 on threes) and 8 rebounds, while Earl Barron had 9 points and 6 rebounds.
The Jam play again tonight before Ennis and Warren re-join the Suns on their Sunday flight to begin a 5-game Eastern road trip.