When: 7:30 PM AZ Time (late start for some reason)
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM ArizonaSports
The Phoenix Suns finally end the second-worst season in franchise history tonight against the playoff-bound Los Angeles Clippers.
That's it. There's only 48 minutes of basketball left before a long summer interrupted only intermittently by news of any kind. You may be looking forward to the break, and in fact you may have started your version of the offseason a few months ago by tuning out actual games anyway. But after tonight there's no choice left. The season will be over.
The Clippers are just clipping along under the radar this season. No longer are they the talk of the NBA as "Lob City", but they will still win at least 60% of their games for the 5th consecutive season with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan at the helm. And don't assume they will tail off in the near future, because all are still in their primes at 30, 26 and 27 years old, respectively.
This year, they endured a speed bump by losing Griffin for more than half the season but still have put together the league's 7th ranked offense and 6th ranked defense. Paul and Jordan have been phenomenal, and J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford have been great supporting players.
Tonight though, you likely won't see too many of those guys as they rest up for the playoffs that start this weekend. The Clippers are locked into the 4th seed with no chance to move up or down, so expect to hear about their luminaries not even making the trip to Phoenix.
So who will you see tonight?
You will probably see a lot of Doc's son, Austin Rivers, who has established himself as a solid NBA player with the guaranteed playing time offered by dad. If only Archie Goodwin's dad was an NBA coach. Rivers will likely be joined in big minutes tonight by journeyman and Suns-killer Jeff Green and former Suns player Wesley Johnson.
Cole Aldrich will likely get a lot of time against Alex Len tonight as well. Aldrich has sprinkled in some nice games of late, and will turn that into some serious cash in this summer of overspending.
Redick and Crawford aren't star enough to get rest, unless there's a lingering injury they need to allow to heal.
Like any NBA team, the lowly Suns are loaded with players who want to win basketball games, no matter how much the fans would like otherwise.
But the final game of a lost season is never predictable. Maybe the Suns will come out on fire, trying to leave a good taste in their mouths for the summer vacation. But then, they came out flat against the Kings on Monday so don't count on that.
Let's take a walk down memory lane... all the way back to Opening Night on October 28...
The Suns opening night starting lineup consisted of Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Tyson Chandler. Only one of those guys is playing in game #82 (Tucker). On the plus side, that 5-man lineup still ranks as the Suns best lineup all season, and one of the top starting lineups in the league through December 31. Unfortunately, that unit appeared in only 13 games this year. The other four starters besides Tucker played only 186 of 328 possible games this year (56%) due to injury, insubordination and/or trade.
Off the bench on opening night, the Suns were counting heavily on Sonny Weems (since released) and T.J. Warren (missed half the season the injury). The players who got the fewest minutes that night, even though Hornacek emptied the bench early, were two of tonight's starters: Ronnie Price and Alex Len.
Through it all, one veteran player has exceeded the lofty preseason expectations heaped on him by fans, coaches and the front office. Mirza Teletovic, signed to basically replace Marcus Morris' minutes in the rotation as a pure stretch four, set an NBA record this year with 179 threes off the bench and counting. The previous league record was 164. Mirza is finishing the season strong, but like Cole Aldrich will get a boatload of money this summer when teams are begging players to take it.
Other bright spots include rookie Devin Booker who finishes second on the team in minutes played and third-year center Alex Len who finishes fourth on the team in total minutes played and finally made us forget about his ankles. Even Jugglin' Jon Leuer had a better then expected season despite being in and out of the rotation.
Does it matter who wins? Depends on the Nets game.
Here's an interesting thought. The Nets will finish their game against the Raptors (who might sit all but 5 guys) before the Suns tip off. If somehow the Nets win the game, I wonder if the Suns will execute a last-season counter-move to ensure a loss. Tucker might come down with an upset stomach. Same for Ronnie Price.
But if the Nets lose, the Suns might as well win tonight to finish the season strong.