When: 8:30 p.m. AZ time
Where: Staples Center
Watch: NBA TV
Listen: 98.7 FM
We’re finally here folks, after 25 games without him, Deandre Ayton will return from suspension and play his first game back on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Suns have been up and down since the team’s first game of the season and are currently riding a three game losing streak.
The Clippers will be returning from a 5-1 east coast road trip and look to extract a measure of revenge against the Suns. The last time these two teams played, the Suns won 130-122. Will the Suns be able to break their losing streak or will the Clippers make it four in a row?
Los Angeles Clippers 20-8
9th in Offensive Rating (110.5) 7th in defensive rating (103.8) 5th in Net Rating (6.7)
The Clippers have looked impressive since Paul George has been playing and whenever Kawhi Leonard isn’t sitting out due to injuries. The two have formed a strong duo and are averaging 50.6 points per game, 14 rebounds per game and nine assist per game. Their natural ability to defend 1 through 4 has also led to the Clippers ranking in the top ten in numerous defensive ratings, specifically 7th in defensive rating with 103.8.
The team isn’t only Leonard and George as Lou Williams is perhaps one of the Clippers’ most vital players who usually comes off the bench. The reigning 6th man of the year is the team’s best and primary playmaker, leading the team with 6.2 assists per game. He’s able to get buckets, averaging 19.9 points per game, and given that he usually doesn’t start games and comes off the bench, he’s usually providing the second unit that volt of energy they need to get the ball rolling.
He headlines the secondary players on this Clipper team that form a nasty core around the duo. Patrick Beverly plays with such ferocity on the defensive side, Montrezl Harrell is a fierce competitor that’s been putting up career numbers this year and the rest of the team plays just as hard.
Overall, the Clippers are deep and are starting to jell together, which could be dangerous for the rest of the league and is especially dangerous for this crippled Suns team.
Phoenix Suns 11-15
7th in Offensive Rating (110.5) 18th in Defensive Rating (109.2) 12th in Net Rating (1.3)
The biggest storyline to play attention to is whether Devin Booker will play against the Clippers or not. He’s dealing with a wrist injury and he’s currently day-to-day. He hasn’t played since the Memphis game and there’s no doubt in my mind that if he was healthy, the Suns would’ve won those two games.
Booker, who’s averaging 25 points per game and 6.4 assists per game, has shown a lot of growth as a player overall, whether it be playmaking, scoring or defending. He’s lined up to be an All-Star this year so long as the Suns can keep competing for a playoff spot. It’s hard to say whether or not he’ll play but even if he’s not 100% healthy and he plays, his presence can make a big change for the team.
If Booker can’t go, that just puts more pressure on the returning center Ayton, who’s only played one game for the team this year. Ayton was suspended due to violating the league’s drug policy and since he’s been gone, the team has been trying to stay afloat. In his only game, Ayton put up 18 points and 11 rebounds and in this game, he should have the advantage over Ivica Zubac.
The Suns will no doubt feed Ayton without Booker which should benefit Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre Jr. Rubio will get his pick and roll partner and the two can do a lot of damage against a Clippers team that isn’t built through their center. With Ayton attacking the paint, the defense will most likely crash onto him whenever he gets the ball. This should allow Rubio and Ayton to find the open man and hit him for an easy shot. Rubio is averaging 9.6 assist per game and has been fundamental in the growth of this Suns offense, which is 7th in offensive rating at 110.5.
Oubre has been having a career season so far this season, averaging career high in points per game with 17.6 and rebounds with 6.1. He’s been the emotional leader on the team and with Booker gone, he’s been taking a lot of the scoring responsibility so far. With Ayton back, that should mean less pressure on Oubre to score and less of the defense’s attention hawking at him.
The Suns have a lot of talent, the team has struggled to pick up these close wins. Injuries and bad calls have cost the team numerous games yet they’re still in the hunt for the 8 seed and a win here will most certainly change the feeling inside that locker room.
Second game on a road back to back, potentially no Booker and the Suns are facing the second best team in the West? Yeah, this looks like a loss to me. It’s tough to pick the Suns in this scenario even if Booker is playing. With George playing the way he has been, it’s tough to see how the Suns could guard him, Leonard and Williams effectively. I think it’ll be close, especially if Booker plays, but in a league where the emphasis is on the best players winning, the Suns just don’t have anyone on Leonard’s level.
Clippers 120 Suns 113