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Preview: Suns encounter first back-to-back against high-powered Clippers

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Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers come to town facing a shorthanded Suns team.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

What: Los Angeles Clippers visit Phoenix Suns

When: 7:00 PM AZ Time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable starters:

Suns - Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Aron Baynes

Clippers - Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Patterson, Ivica Zubac

Los Angeles Clippers

OffRtg = 124.6 (1st), DefRtg = 109.3 (24th), NetRtg = 15.4 (2nd)

Kawhi Leonard is the most entertaining player to watch in the NBA, at least I believe so. The way he’s able to control the floor on both ends while being terrifyingly dominant shows why Leonard is one of the three best players right now.

Against Golden State, Leonard dropped 21 points in 21 minutes as the Clippers cruised to a 19-point victory. They are doing this without Paul George, so watch out once this team is going at full speed. Leonard doesn’t need much around him to have a title threat, and this year’s version is the best yet.

Outside of Leonard, Los Angeles harbors plenty of depth which makes them all the more formidable. Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green, and Maurice Harkless showcase an extremely impressive second unit for the Clippers. With LA trotting out basically two separate starting lineups, it presents trouble to their opposition any night. That will certainly be the case for Phoenix tonight, especially without Deandre Ayton until Dec. 17 due to his suspension.

If I had to predict who ends up in the NBA Finals from the Western Conference this season, my bet would side with the Clippers immediately. Doubting Kawhi Leonard at this point in his career seems very foolish. So, the Suns are going to get an elite test tonight to show how improved they truly are.

Phoenix Suns

OffRtg = 106.5 (15th), DefRtg = 93.5 (6th), NetRtg = 12.9 (5th)

You’re reading those advanced metrics correctly. The Phoenix Suns are a defense-first team at the moment thanks to outstanding effort and execution. Monty Williams and his coaching staff are showing early they connect with this locker room, and the players 100 percent buy in to his philosophies.

Also, the Suns’ star player, Devin Booker, is finally showing his two-way potential with all-out effort on that end thus far. It’s a very notable development for Booker, who isn’t missing much from his portfolio in his fifth season. With Ayton’s suspension, though, all the pressure is back on him to produce gaudy scoring numbers.

Last night versus Denver, the Suns still forced overtime even though Booker produced one of his worst outputs spanning multiple years at this point. Even wide-open looks weren’t falling for Booker, so the bounce back factor grades high for his matchup against LA. If the Suns want to keep this one close, Booker will need to score at least 25-30 points.

Another interesting note revolves around Ayton’s replacements in the rotation: Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky. Both filled in admirably in game one without the former No. 1 overall pick, but will that production maintain for another six weeks? For the Suns to maintain night-in, night-out competitiveness against a tough schedule they must.

Baynes and Kaminsky are able to stretch the floor while also holding their own on defense. The versatility with Kaminsky, who scored 19 points and 11 rebounds off the bench on Friday, allows them to play together in spurts as well. Keep an eye on these two tonight going toe-to-toe with Harrell and Zubac.

One final long-term observation to follow along with is how Oubre and Bridges play together over the next few months. With the way Oubre is rebounding the ball right now, it’s giving me more confidence in the two coexisting as the starting forwards once Ayton returns. If Saric continues to have ice cold shooting nights, it’s an adjustment Williams will have to consider.

The dynamic energy Oubre and Bridges bring together on defense is hard to match, plus the scoring punch isn’t too bad alongside Booker. Oubre’s contract is up after next year and Bridges will be up for an extension at the same time, so we need to see more of the lanky wing combination.

Prediction

For the Suns to keep this one close, they will need to follow a similar script from Denver scrapping for every inch on both ends. If they can keep the same effort, there’s a real chance they can keep this one from being a blowout. It could be a tough task against Kawhi’s latest top-tier squad, though.

Booker and Leonard dueling it out once more is going to be fun, but the more talented depth reigns supreme in this matchup. Keeping this game within double-digits near the end would not be something to overlook.

Clippers 123, Suns 114