Two fast-paced offenses face off tonight when the Los Angeles Clippers visit the Phoenix Suns. Los Angeles is seeking to end a two-game losing streak, and a game against cellar-dwelling Phoenix could be just what Lob City needs to get back on track.
Tonight's contest carries some significance for Phoenix as well. It is its second game under interim coach Lindsey Hunter, and he led them to a win over the Sacramento Kings in his debut on January 23.
Defeating a team as good as the Clippers would get Hunter off to a great start in his new career, so definitely expect the young Suns to be fully focused and without a hangover tonight. Los Angeles could be without star point man Chris Paul once again, and Phoenix will be out for blood after losing to the Clippers twice already this season.
On Los Angeles' end, this is a tuneup game. The Suns are the second-worst team in the Western Conference and have been generally disappointing all season, plus have been blown out by the Clippers twice already.
However, on national television, anything can happen. In the Suns' case, that means pulling out all the stops for an upset special.
Time: Thursday, January 24th, 10:30 p.m. EST
Records: Los Angeles Clippers (32-11) vs. Phoenix Suns (14-28)
Betting Line: Not available as of Thursday, January 24, 8:46 a.m. EST
Injuries: Chris Paul (knee, day-to-day), Trey Thompkins (knee, out), Chauncey Billups (foot, out), Channing Frye (heart, out), Jermaine O'Neal (personal, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Can Suns Avoid Another Blowout with Hunter At the Helm?
In their first season without Steve Nash leading the offense, the Suns have struggled terribly. Goran Dragic has not been the electrifying scorer and passer the team has needed, and Michael Beasley has been a great disappointment.
As a result, Phoenix has been blown out by the Clippers twice this season. The team lost 117-99 on December 8, and 103-77 on December 23. In both losses, the Suns were unable to slow down Blake Griffin, who had a combined 47 points.
But that was under Alan Gentry, who only saw major success in Phoenix when he had both Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire on the team. Lindsey Hunter is now running the show, and he's bringing his own style with him as opposed to Gentry's modification of Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun game.
That's going to be important against a team like the Clippers, who rely on running to maintain their Lob City identity. With Chris Paul potentially missing another game, the Suns are in a prime position to slow down the Clippers' attack and pull off a major upset.
Los Angeles is doing all it can to maintain pace in the battle for the Western Conference, and a three-game losing streak would throw a wrench into the team's collective gears. This makes it all the more important that the Clippers make short work of Phoenix once again, lest they want to have an unusual loss on their resume for this season.
Key Matchup: Marcin Gortat vs. DeAndre Jordan
The key to the Suns pulling off a win tonight is to get past the Clippers' defense, which ranks fourth in points allowed at 93.4 per game. This means getting a solid performance from Marcin Gortat, who will surely have a tough battle against the all-defense game of DeAndre Jordan.
Gortat has been a respectable paint presence for Phoenix this season, averaging 11.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while shooting 53 percent from the field. He has good size at 6'11", 240 pounds, and his ability to dunk the ball with authority has earned him the nickname "The Polish Hammer."
However, Gortat has one weakness. Against elite centers or pure defensive ones, he struggles mightily.
That cannot happen tonight against Jordan, especially since the Suns will have an upset on their minds. Jordan is also 6'11", but he has much more size at 265 pounds. He is also all about defense and playing the low post, averaging 8.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
Jordan is also second in the league in field-goal percentage, having made 60 percent of his attempts from the floor.
The man needs to take full advantage of Gortat's weaknesses tonight, forcing him into the low post and making him play some blue-collar defense. Jordan needs to be in the paint at all times, be it rising up for a blocked shot or a thunderous dunk.
If he can do that and, essentially, take Gortat out of the game, then the Clippers could be in for another blowout of the Suns.
X-Factor: Luis Scola
The Suns' problem in their first two games against the Clippers was their inability to slow down Blake Griffin, and they'll need Scola to take on that task tonight. Moreover, they need him to have a solid scoring night and continue his recent successful streak.
Scola has posted 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season, but his performance over his last five games has shown slight improvement. In that stretch, he has averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, and has shot 52.5 percent from the field.
Therein lies the beauty of Scola's scoring abilities. Though he may not be as strong in the paint, he can basically make shots from most anywhere on the court, with his mid-range game being his strongest suit.
Defensively, Scola needs to do all he can to force Griffin out of his comfort zone. This means making him play a low post game, though that is easier said than done. Scola is much smaller and lankier at 6'9", 245 pounds compared to the 6'10", 251-pound Griffin, so slowing him down could be comparable to stepping in front of a Mack truck.
It won't be easy by any means, but Scola owes it to the Suns to at least try. A bad game from Griffin makes the Clippers lose their best weapon besides Chris Paul, and Scola can be the man behind that operation.
As much as the Suns would love to have this game, it's just not going to happen. The Clippers are too good a team to lose a top player and just crumble against a lottery squad, and this game will get them back on the winning track.
Blake Griffin will have another tremendous scoring game, complete with a double-double. Jamal Crawford will reach double figures off the bench, sinking clutch threes and creating off the dribble as though it was a walk in the park. On defense, DeAndre Jordan will make short work of Gortat and prevent him from being the inside force that the Suns need to win the game.
Who will win?
To Phoenix's credit, this game will not be an absolute blowout. Goran Dragic and Luis Scola will lead the way on offense, with Dragic dishing off pretty passes and sinking threes while Scola becomes his go-to guy. Off the bench, Michael Beasley will have a performance that near-mirrors his performance in Hunter's debut.
Unfortunately, it will not be enough. The Clippers will be out to avoid a three-game losing streak, which means that they'll be locked and loaded against a team they have already blown out twice.
This will not bode well for the Suns who, despite a respectable effort this time around, will not be able to overcome the onslaught of Lob City when it counts.
Los Angeles Clippers 108, Phoenix Suns 96