Preview: Los Angeles Clippers (53-22) vs. Phoenix Suns (44-30)

Time: 7 p.m. MST


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A review of the Sunday night loss to the Los Angeles Lakers saw the Suns look almost perturbed in running back to match up against a fast-paced team, and even in the halfcourt, Phoenix seemed bothered if they needed to help their teammates from the weakside and annoyed when the Lakers scored when that didn’t happen.

It probably had Jeff Hornacek scratching his head, too.

This was an opportunity, maybe the Suns’ last one of the year. And they blew it, not because they didn’t match up well with Chris Kaman, the center who thrived despite recently clashing with his coach. It was all because the Suns didn’t appear to care about trying to stop him.

The effort excuse is used a lot in basketball, but usually it’s about an effort in focusing for every play, or the effort in trying to fix problems. But the Suns’ problems in a 115-99 loss that broke a six-game winning streak was about not running back hard enough and not racing to teammates’ aide when matchups were mixed up the a hectic race to the other end of the court.

If the Suns do the same Wednesday night at home against the Los Angeles Clippers, the result will be much, much worse for a team locked in the standings with the Memphis Grizzlies and a half-game ahead of the Dallas Mavericks, who fell in overtime to the Warriors on Tuesday.

Luckily for Phoenix, Los Angeles will probably not be at full strength.

Forward Blake Griffin, who scored 37 points against the Suns on March 10, a 112-105 Clippers win, is doubtful with a back injury, reports the Los Angeles Times. Bench spark plug Jamal Crawford is dealing with an Achilles injury.

Los Angeles’ last outing, a 114-104 win Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, was the third win in a row for the Clippers. Chris Paul, Darren Collison and DeAndre Jordan have still been plugging along, and though the bench is short, Doc Rivers’ crew won’t be an easy victory for Phoenix.

Can Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic limit the guards?

There’s a strong belief that a defensive-minded point guard could be as valuable as a shot-blocking center. A disrupted offense that never gets to attack might be better than one that stops buckets in the paint, and Bledsoe will be able to put that philosophy to work against his former mentor, Chris Paul.

Paul scored 30 points two games ago, when Los Angeles dropped the Houston Rockets 118-107. But a dual point guard lineup that includes the speedy Darren Collison is an issue for Phoenix. Collison scored 28 against the Timberwolves, and Goran Dragic might be a liability on him rather than Paul. Whatever the Suns do, it needs to limit the scoring ability of the Clippers duo, especially since the scoring might be hard to come by elsewhere.

Can the Suns starters carry their weight?

It’s happened a lot this season. The starters get off to a slow start and the bench cleans up the mess. Against a Clippers team likely missing Crawford and also Danny Granger, the bench should be able to at the least keep an even plus-minus for Hornacek’s team.

So the pressure is on the starters, many of whom hit a major wall against the Lakers on Sunday. Bledsoe, Channing Frye and P.J. Tucker went 4-for-24. Frye, Tucker and Miles Plumlee had enough trouble on both ends of the court that Hornacek didn’t play any of them for more than 19 minutes. A rebound is in order if Phoenix wants to hang with Dallas and Memphis.

Can the Suns grind with Doc’s team without losing their heads?

Doc Rivers’ teams play hard, and the Clippers are hitting a confident stride as the postseason approaches. Last time out, P.J. Tucker earned a suspension for a tussle with Blake Griffin. Goran Dragic and Chris Paul go at it as if they’re not best of friends.

Will it get chippy? And if so, will the Suns keep their cool?

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