The Suns are in Los Angeles to take on the Clippers today, looking to improve upon their solid 12-9 start to the season. The Clippers have been one of the NBA’s best thus far, going 14-5, thanks in part to their stacked starting lineup, which features the NBA’s eighth leading scorer (Blake Griffin), fourth leading assist-getter (Chris Paul) and second leading rebounder (DeAndre Jordan). It doesn’t stop there for the Clippers, who also have the top scoring sixth man in the NBA in Jamal Crawford, who averages over 17 points per game, despite the fact that he’s just a few months away from turning 35.
If the Suns are going to beat the Clippers, they’ll have to play a complete game, and they’ll need to get solid performances out of Miles Plumlee and Alex Len, who have struggled a bit as of late. Len has only managed to score 10 points one time in his last ten games, and he hasn’t had a ten rebound game in nearly a month. Plumlee, on the other hand, has just one double-double on the year, which is way off of the pace from his 2013-14 total of 11.
Additionally, Gerald Green will be looking to keep up his solid scoring off of the bench, as he’s managed to reach double figures in each of the Suns’ last 10 games. However, while Green has been more consistent this year, he’s only managed to hit the 20 point mark five times, putting him on pace for 19-20 games on the year with 20 or more points. That total is also down from one season ago, when he had 25 such games.
Ultimately, this game should provide the Suns with a good test, and in order to knock off the Clippers they’ll need to play a complete game. That being said, here are some of the things to look for tonight…
In some of the most recent games between these two teams, tempers have flared and emotions have boiled over, as the Clippers and Suns have gone after each other. In the last meeting, Matt Barnes was ejected after picking up two technical fouls, and the Suns were called four four technical fouls of their own, as Marcus Morris, Isaiah Thomas, Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green all felt the wrath of the officials. Additionally, neither team has forgotten what occurred one season ago, when P.J. Tucker got into it with Blake Griffin:
It is no secret that these two teams do not like each other, and it will be vital for the Suns to keep a level head and not get sucked into extracurricular activity. Phoenix certainly can’t afford to give away any free points at the line against a top-tier opponent and still expect to win.
Winning the inside battle
Looking at net production by position, the Suns have fared well against opponents at the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions, but the team has struggled on the inside. According to 82games.com, the Suns have allowed opposing 4s and 5s to outwork them, allowing them to put up a combined PER that is 6.8 points higher than the Suns. Looking specifically at the center position, the Suns average 2.7 free throw attempts per game, compared to 7.6 by opponents, and it’s a similar story at the power forward spot, as the Suns get to the line less than three times a game, while allowing opponents to shoot 4.4 times on average.
So what do these numbers mean?
On average the Suns get out produced at the big man positions, which is troubling considering that the team is getting set to take on the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that boasts what is quite possibly the NBA’s best front court. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have combined for 31.1 points and 19.7 rebounds, while each helps out the team in other ways, with Griffin averaging 4.0 assists per game and Jordan averaging 2.5 blocks per game. There is virtually no way for the Suns to win this game by dominating the battle on the inside, but if they are to be victorious, they absolutely must do their best to contain the Clippers’ big men.
The two-headed monster
It’s no secret that one of the things that led to the Suns’ success last year was the play of the team’s top two point guards, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. As of late, the two have been playing well, and they’ll be key as the Suns look to take down the Clippers.
Starting with Bledsoe, the former Kentucky star has been on a tear as of late, averaging 20.6 points, 6.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game over his last seven contests, while shooting roughly 42% from three-point range and 87% from the free throw line in that span. Bledsoe has been doing it all, even racking up five blocks in his last two games, and since November 17th, he’s hit the 15 point mark in eight times in the team’s 11 games. There’s no denying that Bledsoe has been one of the team’s top performers, and he’s even had his fair share of highlights, including a couple of nice blocks in the last game against Houston:
Dragic on the other hand will be looking to rebound from a tough performance against the Houston Rockets, where he scored just 13 points while going 0-of-5 from three. Coming into that game, Dragic had been on fire, shooting over 61% from three in the previous three games, while averaging 28.0 points, 6.7 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game over that stretch. Regardless, just like Bledsoe, the Dragon has fared well at the line, shooting a career best 86.4% from the free throw line, and his ability to get into the paint and draw fouls will be key, especially if the three point jumper isn’t falling. After all, last year the Clippers did a good job containing Dragic, as he shot just 14.3% from long range.
The Suns have lost four straight against the Clippers, and they’ve lost seven of the last nine contests between the two teams, dating back to the 2012-13 NBA season. While the Suns should keep this game close, ultimately the Clippers are the better team, and they’re likely too good inside for the Suns to go on the road and spring the upset, although it wouldn’t be shocking if Phoenix was able to steal a victory.