Time: 7 p.m. MST
This is where it gets interesting for the Phoenix Suns. Over the next seven days, the Suns will play four tough games against three opponents currently sitting above them in the Western Conference standings. After hosting the Clippers and Thunder, the Suns will hit the road to face Golden State for the fourth and final time this year before heading to the Staples Center to play the Clippers. For as great as Phoenix has been this season, one win from those four games seems like the best possible outcome. With Memphis only one game back and facing three much less daunting opponents this week, the Suns could easily find themselves in ninth place next Tuesday for the first time in several months.
But falling out of a playoff spot in the short term does not doom the Suns in the long-term. After this brutal four-game stretch, the Suns will have an 11-game run in which only four of their opponents are .500 or better. And none of those are Western playoff teams. So no matter what happens over the next week, the Suns will certainly be able to improve their standing before their brutal close to the season in April.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, the Suns still have a game to play against the Clippers, a team they dominated on the road in their first meeting this year. For more on this matchup, let’s ask three preview questions.
The first meeting was a quintessential 2013-14 Suns victory. Can they repeat that performance?
There are three things the Suns have done all season to dominate opponents: get out in transition, shoot well from downtown, and force turnovers. Back in December, Phoenix caught the Clips completely by surprise with all three of these tactics. The Suns scored 18 fast break points, forced LA into 20 turnovers, and hit 12-of-31 from downtown. It’s a simple formula that has brought Phoenix 35 wins already this year. But Chris Paul, Doc Rivers, and the rest of the Clippers have seen this show already. This time they’ll know what to expect. Phoenix has to stick to its game plan, but must also be prepared when the Clippers try to take away their strengths. A victory tonight will require as much mental effort as physical because Phoenix may have to shift its approach as the game goes on.
Can the Suns second unit take advantage?
Jamal Crawford is listed as “likely to miss” tonight’s game, so that means the Clippers will have to rely on former Sun Jared Dudley and new additions Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Hedo Turkoglu to carry the load when the starters are out. Ish Smith, Leandro Barbosa, and the Morris twins should be able to run circles around those guys. They will each have to be solid contributors if Phoenix wants to keep pace with one of the hottest teams in the West.
Who’s got Blake?
Blake Griffin has been an absolute monster for the last month. In February he averaged 30 points and 10 boards. It was one of if not the best month of his career. Blake is a tall task defensively for any team, but even more so for the Suns who are shallow in the front court. The task of defending Griffin will likely fall to Channing Frye and Markieff Morris. The key for both will be to avoid foul trouble. For as instinctive as it is to foul Blake to prevent a thunderous dunk, keeping Frye on the floor to be a shooter and Morris on the floor to be a bench scorer are far more crucial to Phoenix’s success than keeping Blake under 30. The Suns have won countless games this year when the other team’s best player went off. So long as Phoenix can keep the rest of the Clippers in relative check, they should have an excellent shot at victory.