As the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers face off Wednesday night in Hollywood, the seasons of both of the teams are already set in concrete; we are just waiting for it to dry.
The Clippers have already locked up a playoff berth, and with a win against Phoenix and a Golden State Warriors loss, L.A. would finish the season atop the Pacific division for the first time ever. The team is now just trying to get that elusive 50th win, earn the division title, and regain their confidence for the playoffs, seeing as they are on a three-game losing streak and have lost four of their last five games.
The Suns are solidly affixed in the lottery for this off-season’s draft. They have already been eliminated from playoff contention and are evaluating their young players, while losing enough to hopefully gain that third overall pick.
ESPN recognizes the differing directions of the team with the betting line, which favors the Clippers tonight by 16.5 points, predicting an L.A. blowout.
Phoenix only has two people on the injury report, in addition to Channing Frye’s enlarged heart that has kept him out all season. Marcin Gortat has been out for a couple weeks with his foot injury, but is having the walking boot removed, and hopes to play in the last few games of the season, according to the Arizona Republic. P.J. Tucker was the only other blip on the injury radar and didn’t practice Monday, but should probably play following two more days of rest.
Los Angeles has such a deep bench that some minor injuries won’t affect their potential to blowout the Suns. According to the Los Angeles Times, Chauncey Billups will miss the game with a groin injury. They also reported that Blake Griffin’s reduced impact on the game could be because of a lingering swollen left calf muscle. He shouldn’t miss any games. Matt Barnes twisted his ankle Saturday against the Houston Rockets. He should be fine.
Keys to the game: Suns
- Limit the effectiveness of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan down low. This includes preventing alley-oops that get their home crowd up and cheering, and may require the use of the hack-a-Griffin/Jordan technique that puts these 66 and 39 percent free throw shooters to the charity stripe.
- Don’t let Chris Paul orchestrate the game or penetrate the lane. Paul is one of the best point guards in the league and letting him dominate the ball and make the passes or penetrate the paint and kicking the ball out for a three is not what the Suns want. Force him to give the ball to someone else.
Keys to the game: Clippers
- Come out early with confidence and get a big lead early. The Suns kind of want to lose this game to gain a better draft position and if they are down big they might lay down by halftime.
- Shut down Goran Dragic and Wesley Johnson. These are the only two players who can really create shots for themselves on a consistent basis and if L.A. can shut them down they will win the game.
The performance of the reserves. If the Suns bench can come out and deliver a positive net stretch against the Clipper’s second unit, they could come out victorious.
Match-up to watch:
The match-up that will be most interesting will be Goran Dragic versus Chris Paul. Both teams are on at least three-game losing streaks and we will see which floor general will put their team’s fortunes on his back and propel their squad to another victory. Unfortunately, I think it will be Paul, because he is better right now and has a better supporting cast.