Preview: Phoenix Suns (18-11) at Los Angeles Clippers (21-11)


Time: 8:30 pm MST

TV: FSAZ

Suns

Suns

Clippers

Clippers

The story of The Prodigal Son is about a reckless young man who left his father’s home to seek his fortune in places unknown. All he found was despair and failure. I’m not sure if there’s an opposite story to that of the Prodigal Son, but it should be called the Tale of Eric Bledsoe.

Bledsoe arrived in Phoenix after three years in Los Angeles. He had served as backup to Chris Paul for two seasons and in limited time had shown flashes of being a truly great player in his own right. He was one of if not the most coveted player asset in the NBA last offseason. When Ryan McDonough was able to bring Eric to the desert, it was the first of several signs of changing fortunes in Phoenix. The acquisition was cause for optimism, though no one knew exactly how much optimism and success were in store this year. Though the Suns have gotten immense and surprising contributions from every corner of their roster this season, I believe it’s safe to say that Bledsoe was the spark that led this team to 18 wins before New Year’s when many questions whether they’d get 18 wins all season. Bledsoe has been everything any pundit or team executive thought he could be, and we’re only 29 games into the year.

Tonight the Suns head to LA to face the Clippers, a team who like the Suns, bounced back in their last game from a disappointing loss. For Phoenix, their double digit win over the 76ers helped erase the pain of their worst loss of the year in GoldenState the night before. For Los Angeles, their 98-90 win over Utah helped them recover from back-to-back two point losses to GoldenState and Portland on December 25th and 26th respectively.

This battle between Pacific Division foes will be a real test of Phoenix’s playoff contender credentials. Trouncing less than adequate teams like the Sixers and Lakers is one thing, but to truly contend, the Suns will have to hang tough and battle teams like the Warriors and Clippers to ensure neither runs away with the division. For more on tonight’s matchup, let’s pose three big questions.

Will the student become the master?

The marquee matchup in tonight’s game is quite clearly between former teammates Eric Bledsoe and Chris Paul. Paul comes into this game leading the league is assists by a wide margin. He’s scoring nearly 20 points per game and he’s fourth in the league in PER. Bledsoe will have his work cut out for him every minute CP3 is on the court. One of the things that makes Paul so hard to guard is the way he alters his playing style throughout the game. He will go long stretches without taking a shot in order to get his teammates involved and keep them engaged. But then at the drop of a hat, he can become ultra-aggressive and take the game over offensively. This variation can trick defenders into expending less effort or helping more on defense, an approach which Paul will take advantage of 10 times out of 10.

The good news for Phoenix is that Bledsoe watched Paul do this for two years. He guarded him every day in practice. If there’s anyone in the league who has a chance to stifle or at the very least slow down Chris Paul, it’s Eric Bledsoe. Look for Bledsoe to use his size and speed to make Paul work defensively and potentially tire out the all-world point guard who is playing his fourth game in six days.

Will the Suns find their range from deep?

After fantastic performances from three against the Mavericks and Lakers, the Suns have submitted two stinkers from downtown in their last two games. Phoenix is 13-of-56 in its last two outings, and though one of those was a victory, the Suns won’t win many games when they fail to utilize one of the best weapons in their arsenal. Tonight the burden of getting right from beyond the arc will fall on the starters, who have only made four threes in the last two games, down from their average of over 5 made threes per game. Whether or not the shots or falling, the Suns perimeter players have to shoot from deep if only to stretch the defense and give themselves more room to penetrate. Both Dragic and Bledsoe attempted zero shots from deep against the Warriors who were very aggressive about running the Suns off the line. The Suns abandoned their usual game plan and got blown out in that game. They would be better served sticking to the script against the Clippers.

Who would you rather have: Miles Plumlee or DeAndre Jordan?

Before the season this was an exceedingly laughable question. But now, it’s a legitimate inquiry. Miles Plumlee is coming off a career game where he scored 22 points, grabbed 13 boards, and blocked three shots, all in just 32 minutes. Plumlee has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, and it seems as though his confidence is peaking right now after a lull in the early part of this month. From the standpoint of a straight statistical comparison, Plumlee trails Jordan in major categories like rebounding, blocks, and FG%. Miles has the slight edge over DeAndre is points, but he is leading the Clippers’ center by a wide margin in offensive capability. Plumlee has shown a wide variety of post moves including a versatile and effective jump hook. Jordan finds his points off of lobs and put backs. The Clippers rarely if ever throw the ball to him in the paint and ask him to get a bucket. Both men are 25 years old, but Plumlee has just one year of experience while Jordan has five. DeAndre is what he is at this point, while Plumlee may have a long way still to come. It will be very interesting to see who gets the better of the other tonight at Staples Center.

Tags: Eric Bledsoe Los Angeles Clippers Miles Plumlee Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Preview

  • http://none Go Phx

    The font on most of this article is messed up and really small.

  • EBJM

    By 25 players are typically what they are. I don’t really see how Plumlee has more upside with four years less NBA experience.

    Jordan is 2nd in the league in rebounding at 13 per game which is 6 more than last season.

    They are basically the same player.

  • Foreveris2long

    I am just hoping for a competitive game tonight as I will make the hour commute to take in the game live.

    As for the Plumlee/Jordan debate, I think both are good as they are primarily defensive rebounding centers which speaks volumes for their worthiness to their teams. However I think Plumlee will widen the offensive gap between him and Jordan over the next two years so I vote for Plumdog based on his ceiling. I admit it is a good question and a close call.

    D’Breezy and I had this discussion about R. Lopez and Jordan a few years back and today it is still a close call ,however I think the ability of Lopez and Plumlee to score other on than a dunk gives them a slight advantage over Jordan.

    I was surprised to hear yesterday that the Clips are interested in obtaining Bynum from the Cavs. I would imaging a deal like that would include Jordan in the trade and would reflect somewhat on whether the Clips feel Jordan is close to his ceiling.

  • john

    I also agree it’s a good question. I’ve always felt Jordan was fairly useless as anything other than a rebounder and shot blocker. He’s really upped his rebounding game this year, which would make me give the edge to him over Plumlee at this point in time, but I think Plumlee has the brighter future.

  • EBJM

    Plumlee has a hook shot at age 25. I just find it difficult to see where a four-year college player entering the league without a post game suddenly developing one.

    The Lopez twins are a great example. We talked about them a lot at AzCentral so I’m not going to qualify my comments. Robin never really liked basketball, he played with his three brothers to even the teams. Brook on the other hand took to the game at age 5 or something.

    Both are 26 and Brook is one the finest offensive centers in the league while Robin is the better rebounder/defender even though Brook does swat a lot of shots.

    I don’t think we are going to see Robin come close to Brook’s offensive game.

    Andrew Bynum was the youngest kid ever drafted at age 17 and the Lakers hired Jabbar to tutor him. That is seven years of tutelage by Jabbar to get Bynum’s game to where it is at compared to Plumlee and Jordan.

  • haremoor

    “By 25 players are typically what they are. ”

    Grant Hill, Steve Nash, PJ Tucker, Goran Dragic, Tyson Chandler, LeBron James, and many others might disagree.

  • Foreveris2long

    Robin was working on developing his relationship with Michelle Wie while Brook was working on his offensive game. I am not mad at Robin.

  • Rengaw

    Plumlee is the better offensive player with a terrific jump hook, and no one (NO ONE) produces more thunderous dunks. Jordan may have the edge in blocking shots and rebounding but not by much.

    Now for the real comparison……freethrow shooting…these guys are two of the worst in the league.

  • http://none Go Phx

    Clips trading Jordan for Bynum? That’s laughable.

  • Dave:f32

    Q: Why are the Suns not tanking? In spite of how surprisingly well they’ve looked against some average teams, they aren’t going anywhere this year, right?

    Chad Ford: Great question. I thought the other shoe would drop any day and the team would keep gutting their roster. But the past week I keep hearing and reading the opposite, that the Suns will try to make a move or two to improve the team now. This is what happens when you waffle on a direction (which the Suns have notoriously done for several years). ESPN.com – See more at: http://hoopshype.com/rumors/tag/trade#sthash.MhnqwIU4.dpuf

    #SunsBeWafflin’

  • john

    Chad Ford can suck it.

  • Chris

    Suns are ruining their tank party. Geez, they can’t even tank right! Another season in mediocreville. We have a great chance to get one of these game changing players and we are blowing it. Hopefully the front office will realize we are not going anywhere with this roster and feel good stories don’t win championships. Frye and Dragic will hopefully be traded to stop this winning. More draft picks!

  • Dave:f32

    @Chris -

    I would have to agree with your conclusion. The Suns are a solid team but this team is not one to go over the top and win it all in a 7-game playoff series.

    This team is built to surprise those teams in the league that dont know any better or much about, and end up underestimating the Suns because they view those on this roster as inferior NBA talent.

    If the playoffs started today, the Suns would be playing the Spurs in the first round. The Spurs are old, yes, but the Suns wouldnt be able to “sneak” out wins cuz they are experienced enough to know what it takes to win playoff games, which typically are played at a slower and more methodical pace.

    Can this Suns team beat the Spurs in a 7-game series right now? No

    Ryan McD wants this to work so badly that it cuts the corners of a true rebuild time-wise, and solidifies his reputation within the NBA community. This team is not winning any titles as it is. And if changes are made, it is not guaranteed that the personnel mesh as well as this squad has.

    #Catch22

  • john

    0.5 game out of first isn’t “mediocre.”

  • Chris

    when “1st” is 4th seed in the playoffs with no chance of going any further than the second round then yes I would call that Mediocre john. Be honest with yourself, this team will never win a championship with the personnel on the roster. Look at the top of this year’s draft and please tell me they are not worth tanking for, especially when you look at the suns’ chances of landing a big name free agent.

  • Bandwagon Fan

    Feel good stories don’t win championships and neither do draft picks. Free agency and trades produce champions now.

  • Chris

    Please enlighten me of the free agents we can acquire that will put us over the top. Carmelo? not so much. James? Never going to happen. Sure, if you are the lakers, Celtics, or other big markets then free agency and trades will do it for you. For teams like the Suns? No. And draft picks do win championships. Where do the players come from that win championships? Not a Cracker Jack box.

  • Chris

    Oh and one more thing. Out of the 4 major teams in the local area, the Suns are the least talented. They are going nowhere without draft picks and high ones at that. Great, we have 4 1st round draft picks. That means most likely 1-2 will be out of the league, one might be a good bench player and on might be a decent starter. Not going to help. With this draft, even if we traded all 4 draft picks we most likely won’t crack the top 5.

  • Russell’s Suns

    Chris, don’t take this personally, but you are the definition of a terrible fan.

    I’m glad we don’t have GM that has your brain. Our GM built a championship team by avoiding the draft in Boston.

    Sucking for the next 4 years before we become a playoff team, doesn’t cut it and even if we become a playoff team in 3-4 years with one of these guy’s that we draft this year while waiting for him to develop in to a “star” we still would not have a guarantee that all the team would be is a 2nd round team. I mean OKC is a great team and took 3-4 years for them to develop after they drafted Durant, but what do they have to show for it so far?

    The Suns strategy is perfect, they have a team that can win the Pacific, when they add Lou Deng in February they will instantly become Western Conference Finals contenders, and with 6 first round picks the Suns are the only team in the NBA that can land Deng, and then go after either Love/Monroe/Faried to solidify the PF position, and still have picks left.

    That would be an NBA finals contender for the next 5-6 years. Our GM is building a monster, and all you want to do is whine!

    Happy New Year Phoenix Suns!! 2014 is going to be a great year for Suns Nation!

  • Russell’s Suns

    And, in regards to Carmelo, i wouldn’t want to have him on my team for a million years, we may not have a star player, but we win, Carmelo might be a “star” (like marbury was) but he will forever be a loser!

  • Chris

    You can call me a terrible GM, but don’t call me a terrible fan. Chances are I have been a fan and a strong fan for longer than you. The difference is I am a realist. Deng will not make the suns Conference Finals contenders. Even with Deng, they won’t get past the Spurs or Thunder. We might surprise the Blazers because for some reason we have their number. The Thunder have not won because of the heat, They can’t do anything else. James is the man. Call it whining all you want, but this team is no where close to contending for anything but middle of the road. If the suns get either Love/Monroe/Faried then maybe they are building something but Phoenix is not a hot spot for free agency. I hope we do get a solid free agent. You are right though, it is a good thing I am not the GM because I am far from qualified. Either are you though.

  • Chris

    I agree with you on that. Carmelo is a cancer and will only be successful as a number 2 to a great player that can keep his mind in the game. There isn’t very many out there though. Jordan could have, but I don’t see anyone doing that other than kobe in this soft league.

  • Dave:f32

    Luol Deng?! Ur kidding , right?!

    You sure had me goin there thinking you were actually serious.

    I agree with Chris. I, too , have been a lifelong (longer than you;) fan and over time have become disillusioned with the way in which the process of the business-side of the Suns and FO has prevented the fans from celebrating a champion!

    It seems like the Suns have turned a new leaf, and i hope they have, but it just feels like they really haven’t. Time reflects all, and we shall soon find out what direction this reality is, with the trade deadline soon approaching.

    i just hope the fans haven’t been hoodwinked and bamboozled again!

  • Dave:f32

    Knowing the ethical and greedy man Sarver is, it is difficult to imagine it isnt some kind of stunt he has pulled in the past to save money and ensure profitability…

  • Bandwagon Fan

    Chris, I appreciate your passion but I think it’s effecting what your reading from my post. I didn’t say the Suns could land a top tier player through free agency. I simply stated a fact that this is how championship teams are being built. The exception to this would be SA. To build like them you have to have luck plus an extremely talented scouting department which the Suns seem to be lacking since the early 2000′s.

    What makes you so sure that if the Suns get lucky and draft a superstar that they’d stay a Sun? If no free agent stars want to come to the Suns, why would they want to stay?

    BTW, the last time the Suns were in the finals, it was through a trade.

  • Chris

    I agree with you if that player is Charles Barkley my friend. There is no sure thing in the draft, it is all a crap shoot. If you remember when we had Nash in his prime, we built a winner, then people came. The only way we lure free agents is if we build a winner. We won’t get lucky and get a nash (Bledsoe has the most promise, but won’t be winning MVP any time soon) or a Charles to get us to that point. We have to cross our fingers and hope the draft does us well.

  • john

    I’ll take a Pacific division championship and a second round exit over tanking in hope that you land a game changer.

    And I agree that you are the definition of a terrible fan.

  • Chris

    Then you accept mediocrity John. That’s too bad. If not accepting mediocrity makes me a terrible fan then I will take on the title and be the worse fan ever over settling like you have.

  • john

    Mediocrity is .500 ball. This is hardly mediocre ball. I’d rather have good basketball in town than have to watch any more seasons like the last. No one can guarantee what pick the Suns would have gotten even if their record was bottom 5, and no one really has any idea if those guys will pan out.

    Remember when Oden was a lock? Remember when the Bulls were dumb for taking rose over Beasley? And now, even after the Bulls made the “right” call, rose can’t even get on the court.

    Think the wizards are happy their awfulness got them John Wall? How are the cavs doing with Kyrie? How about the clips with Blake?

    The lottery is not a surefire ticket to the finals. Heck, WINNING the lottery isn’t even a surefire ticket to the finals.

    I don’t accept mediocrity. I realize there is more than one way to skin a cat. And as a guy who actually supports the team with his hard earned dollar, I’d rather pay to watch a bearable product than the garbage they put out the last three seasons.

  • Chris

    Good point John. Happy New Year.

  • john

    And I get what you’re saying too, and they’re all good points. The way I look at it though, it’s too late to wonder what would have happened if the Suns had won the lottery. This team is too good for that. So, I choose to look forward rather than wonder what might have been. That’s all. Happy new year to you as well.