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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns look to bounce back against Los Angeles Clippers

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After stumbling to a 2-3 record on their five game homestand the Phoenix Suns embark on a six game road trip with a pit stop in Los Angeles against the Clippers before traveling across the country for games against Eastern Conference opponents.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

When: Saturday November 15, 2014, 8:30 PM local time (10:30 EST)

Where: STAPLES Center Los Angeles, CA

Watch/Listen: TV: FOX Sports Arizona Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM

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Last Meeting:

The Suns and Clippers faced off in a preseason game at the STAPLES Center on October 22nd in which starters for both teams logged heavy minutes. LA pulled out a narrow 108-105 victory behind the heroics of Chris Paul (34 points, 9 assists, 4 steals) and Blake Griffin (35 points, 7 rebounds). Eric Bledsoe led the Suns with 27 points while Gerald Green chipped in 23 off the bench.

The game was tightly contested throughout and Marcus Morris gave the Suns a one point lead on a three pointer with 1:46 remaining, but Spencer Hawes responded with a layup for the Clippers to give LA the lead for good. Gerald Green missed a three pointer before the buzzer that would have tied the game.

This is the first regular season game between the teams this season. The Clippers won last season's series 3-1.

Team Bios:

Los Angeles Clippers: 4-3

Points per game: 100.7 (15th)     Points allowed: 101.7 (21st)

ORtg: 106.7 (14th)     DRtg: 107.8 (22nd)

Full team statistics.

The usual suspects are still here. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick compose a harrowing starting five. The usual results are not. A Clippers team that surely had preseason aspirations of seizing the NBA's best regular season record has sputtered out of the gate.

The Clippers high octane offense that was first in the league in points per game and offensive rating in the 2013-14 season has been sedately middle of the pack this campaign. LA had some time this week (four days off) to reflect on their shortcomings and work out the kinks since their last game was a Monday home loss (89-85) to the San Antonio Spurs.

Key offseason acquisition Spencer Hawes has been pitifully wretched in the early going. After averaging 13.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season he is managing just 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds so far this season. His .416 shooting percentage from thee point range has dropped declivitously to .231. Hawes is averaging just 17.0 minutes per game, by far his lowest total since his rookie season seven years ago.

The Clippers may also be adjusting to life without backup point guard Darren Collison, who left the team last summer to take a starting role with the Sacramento Kings. Collison averaged 11.4 points and 3.7 assists for LA last season. The Clippers haven't found a playmaker to take the reins while Paul sits this season, with only Griffin (3.6) and Jamal Crawford (2.8) averaging more than two assists per game.

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Phoenix Suns: 5-4

Points per game: 103.7 (10th)     Points allowed: 103.3 (24th)

ORtg: 106.2 (15th)     DRtg: 105.9 (18th)

Full team statistics.

22 out of 31.

22 out of the Suns next 31 games will be on the road starting with tonight's matchup against the Clippers that begins a six game, 10 day road trip. That is some kind of brutal.

Unfortunately, the Suns couldn't manage to close out the get away game against the Charlotte Hornets last night and finished a five game homestand at a disappointing 2-3. At least the Hornet loss wasn't as vexing as their recent 114-112 double overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings in which the team squandered a multitude of opportunities. Charlotte just played parsimonious defense and executed on offense when they needed to down the stretch. It was actually kind of a clinic, giving an example of what the Suns need to aspire to.

The Suns are still searching for their identity, while sporadically fluctuating in and out of periods of maddening inconsistency.  Finding the right combinations and playing time for the team's four top guards seems to be the biggest stumbling block. Not only does the team have three starting quality point guards (Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe), but shooting guard Gerald Green could start for many teams and is definitely deserving of regular rotation minutes.

To this point, it has been the two reserves, Thomas and Green, who have played a bigger role in the team's early success. In the team's five wins Thomas is averaging 22.2 points per game and Green 17.4. Bledsoe has averaged just 11.8 points in the wins. Interestingly enough, Bledsoe is averaging 19.5 points per game in the team's four losses.

Isaiah has scored 20+ points in all five wins. Eric has scored 20+ points in three of the four losses. Thomas is +13 in point differential (third on the team behind the Morris brothers) while Bledsoe is -7 (worst among the team's rotation players). The team has been better with Isaiah playing and Eric sitting in the inchoate stages of the season. This just doesn't seem like a recipe for success.

Three point shooting, which should be a weapon for the Suns, also needs to improve on both ends of the court. The Suns are managing just .329 from deep this season (18th) after hitting .372 (8th) of their attempts last season.

The Suns are also allowing .368 (21st) to their opponents after finishing second in the NBA in three point defense (.342) last season. In football there is an idiom - run the football, stop the run. For the team the Suns have currently constructed it should be - shoot the three, stop the three. This trend will need to be corrected.

What To Watch For:

Guard play for the Suns is an obvious evolving drama that is worthy of a watchful eye on a nightly basis. The Clippers are one of few teams in the NBA that can stake a claim to being superior to the Suns in this facet (Paul, Crawford, Redick). Bledsoe's body language was bad during the two fourth quarters he sat while Thomas played. Isaiah has been on the record recently professing he still aspires to be a starter. Green is playing for his last big contract. Goran's numbers have shriveled from last season's breakout All-NBA performance. Dragic is in a contract year, too. Eventually this situation may reach a boiling point, especially if the team doesn't enjoy success. Hopefully it does.

The Clippers are dead last in the NBA in rebounding differential (-6.7). They weren't particularly good last season, either, finishing 20th (-.7). The Suns should have a chance to win this battle. How Markieff Morris handles heavy minutes against Blake Griffin might make the difference here.

The Final Word(s):

This is a hard one to call for me. Maybe it shouldn't be.

A Clippers team that is supposed to be better playing at home on four days rest against a team that lost a tough game the previous night doesn't really sound too difficult to call.

Still, the Suns have a lot of players that can heat up and LA hasn't been clicking to this point. Maybe this will be a game where the Suns start to figure some things out.

Maybe not.

Starting off this road trip on the right foot would be huge, though, because the road (and I mean road) ahead is pretty daunting.

I'll reluctantly go with Clippers 113, Suns 106.