Preview: Clippers (24-33) at Suns (36-23)

Suns 125, Clippers 112



PHOENIX — Everybody knows the Phoenix Suns are a devastating offensive basketball team.

They currently lead the NBA in offensive efficiency (averaging 110.9 points per 100 possessions), as they have every year since Steve Nash returned to Phoenix in 2004.

But that’s not the reason the Suns have won 10 of their last 12 and five of six since the All-Star break entering tonight’s tilt against the Clippers.

“Our offense isn’t how we win,” said Suns guard Jason Richardson. “It’s our defense that’s really carrying us and winning games.”

Yes, believe it or not, your Phoenix Suns are winning games on the defensive end of the basketball court. No, I cannot believe I just typed that last sentence, but it’s true, especially in the second halves of games.

Since the break, the Suns have limited their opponents to just 37.6 percent shooting in second halves. As a means of comparison (and I know, small sample size, but still), the league-leading defenses from Chicago and Orlando yield 43.7 percent shooting.

This recent defensive surge has caused the Suns to jump up the defensive field-goal percentage rankings, moving them all the way up to 12th thanks to a defense allowing just 45.5 percent shooting from the field. That’s percentage points behind a top-10 ranking and just .001 behind the mighty Spurs’ defense.

After joking that the Suns’ ‘D’ has been better because of coaching, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said, the players have “been looking at field-goal percentage because that’s how a lot of teams are judged defensively, the good defensive teams. We’ve been moving down or up, whichever way you want to look at it, and now we’re almost in the top 10, and I think that becomes very important for us.”

The Suns will have a chance to flex their defensive muscle against a Clippers squad that ranks tied for 24th in the league in offensive efficiency (101.1 pp100), a team that Phoenix throttled 124-93 back on Christmas Day in front of an ESPN audience . That could be a big reason why ESPN decided to televise the Orlando-New Orleans game tonight instead of this one, moving this contest to a regular 7 p.m. local tip after originally being slated for an ESPN broadcast.

As the Suns hope to continue their recent defensive prowess even without a national audience, Steve Nash said the biggest thing Phoenix needs to do to make that happen is maintain its consistent focus at the defensive end.

“We’re never going to be the best defensive team in the league, but we’ve shown from the start of the season until now we’ve shown stretches where we are a good defensive team or an adequate defensive team, and it comes down to focus,” he said. “When we’re focused, we’re early, we’re anticipating, that’s when you see us playing well defensively, and that I think is the difference you’ve seen in this team the last 10-12 games.”

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