Last night the Phoenix Suns lost a hard fought (at least offensively) game to the San Antonio Spurs at home. Tonight the 25-25 Suns will try to win their third game against the 28-21 L.A. Clippers on the road to go 3-0 against them so far, and more importantly, to get back to a winning record and one game closer to a playoff berth.
The L.A. Clippers have won their last four games at home. In fact, their last loss at the Staples Center came at the hands of the Suns on March 15th when Phoenix shocked nearly everyone by beating the Clippers without both Steve Nash and Grant Hill. If the Suns are looking to repeat that winning formula then tonight would be a great time since Grant Hill is questionable with a strained knee, and Steve Nash is apparently having back problems again after it tightened up on him in last night's loss to the Spurs.
How will the Suns respond after last night's game? Will Shannon Brown continue his hot streak tonight? Will Jared Dudley score more than two points? Answers to these questions and more after the jump...
Here is a look at the Clippers:
The Clippers now have five players averaging double-digits in scoring (minus Billups). That's one more than they had the last time the Suns faced the Clippers ... before they added Nick Young in a trade at the deadline. However, Mo Williams is out with a toe injury so that evens it up a bit. Still, the Clippers are a very talented team, at least offensively, and the Suns will certainly have their hands full against a team who has been playing very well at home lately.
Steve Nash vs. Chris Paul - This will be a battle between two of the best point guards in the game, both of whom have a tremendous b-ball I.Q. and ability to make other players around them better. However, only one of these two point guards is a former two-time MVP and still leading the league in assists at the ripe young age of 38. But still, in their first meeting (the only in which Nash played), Paul got the upper hand with 16 points and 5 assists to Nash's 6 points and 6 assists. However, that was likely more of an aberration than evidence of superior skills. Nash is averaging 13 points and 11 assists per game to Paul's 19.5 points and 8.6 assists ... fairly difficult to put one ahead of the other. This match-up could go either way tonight; let's just hope Nash's back is feeling better today (Advantage - Push)
Marcin Gortat vs. DeAndre Jordan - The last time these two teams met, Gortat had one of his worst games of the season scoring only 8 points on 3-10 shooting and grabbing only 6 rebounds ... but that was also without Steve Nash. DeAndre Jordan on the other hand scored 11 points and grabbed 9 boards, which is slightly higher than his average of 7.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. When Gortat is playing well he's just a better player than DeAndre. And as long as Nash plays tonight I think Marcin has the clear-cut edge in this match-up. (Advantage - Suns)
Channing Frye vs. Blake Griffin - This match-up may seem like a no-brainer to most, and if I hadn't already seen the first two meetings between these two teams I would probably agree. In their first meeting this season, Frye limited Blake defensively and held him to only 17 points on 6-19 shooting and 7 rebounds. Frye on the other hand only scored 6 points but managed to grab 14 rebounds. Griffin fared better in the second meeting scoring 25 points on 12-18 shooting and grabbing 8 rebounds. Frye scored 12 points and grabbed just 6 boards. If Frye can defend Blake as well as he did in the first meeting and also grab over 10 rebounds in this game then I really like the Suns chances. But still, Blake is clearly the better player and one of the biggest threats offensively that the Suns will have to account for and he will likely be the key to the game. (Advantage - Clippers)
Suns' Wings vs. Clippers' Wings - Rather than breaking down each player, I figured I would lump them all together as one for each team since both the Suns and the Clippers have a lot of talent at this position. For the Suns this includes Grant Hill, Jared Dudley and Shannon Brown. For the Clippers this includes Nick Young, Caron Butler and Randy Foye. This is a hard one to call based on the uncertainty of Grant Hill's status, but if I go with the assumption that Grant Hill will play tonight and be given the task of shutting down their most dangerous wing (Nick Young), then I love this match-up for the Suns. If not, well it suddenly gets much more complicated. But still, with Dudley hitting a hot streak with the exception of last night, and now more Shannon Brown added into the mix I would still give the Suns the edge here. (Advantage - Suns)
The Suns have already shown they can beat the Clippers, and have done so in the last four consecutive meetings. After last night's loss the Suns need to re-establish themselves in the playoff hunt with a win in L.A. tonight, and I believe Alvin Gentry and Elston Turner will have them mentally and emotionally prepared to do just that. Shannon Brown has really come on strong lately and his previous scoring high for the season before last night's 32 points was his 21 points in the last game against the Clippers. I think Gentry will play him early and often even if Grant Hill returns to the starting line-up. Jared Dudley has also been huge for the Suns lately, and despite his disappearance against the Spurs he has been the Suns leading scorer in the month of March, so I expect another big game from him tonight.
The bottom line is that the Clippers are a very beatable team for the Suns, and they have played them very well in their first two meetings. I think the players on this Suns team really believe in themselves and each other, and their chemistry on and off the floor has really helped them in turning this season around. Tonight will be a very important game for the Suns which will help determine whether or not they make the playoffs. With all that is riding on this game I expect the Suns to come out playing inspired and with purpose, and I believe the Suns should be able to finish this series against the Clippers with another win.