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Preview: Oubre Jr. out, Saric in as Suns host Clippers to begin decisive six-game homestand

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The Suns face one of the best teams in the NBA as they get hit with the injury bug once again.

NBA: DEC 17 Suns at Clippers Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (24-34) @ Los Angeles Clippers (38-19)

When: 7 p.m. MST

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM


The Suns just can’t catch a break. After finally getting healthy (minus backup big man Frank Kaminsky), they won two of three on a big road trip to get within 4.5 games of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Now, Kelly Oubre Jr. is out with a mysterious knee injury that head coach Monty Williams said would be officially diagnosed soon.

“How our season’s been going, with injuries and stuff like that, finally kind of get healthy and someone else gets hurt, it’s just tough,” Mikal Bridges said at shootaround Wednesday. “We all love each other and we all want to be out there together, and just having fun the past couple games too ... it’s definitely tough.”

The Suns will be without an energizer, a leader, and a secondary scorer in a key battle against one of the West’s best groups.

Phoenix Suns

No. 13 in the Western Conference

110.2 ORtg (17th) - 111.5 DRtg (18th) = minus-1.3 netRtg (17th)

Projected starters: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Bridges, Dario Saric, Deandre Ayton

After leaning heavily on smaller units the past couple months, Williams said at shootaround that Saric will start in Oubre’s place against the Clippers.

“Mikal will play some more 3, Cam (Johnson) will play 3/4,” Williams said.

The Suns started this same lineup in mid-January when Ayton was finally elevated to the permanent starting center spot. It was one of Ayton’s best stretches of the season, leading a dominant victory over Boston and then taking it to the Knicks, both on the road.

In 47 minutes this year, the lineup has outscored opponents by 15.5 points per 100 possessions. They will need a great game from Saric and for Ayton to enforce his will against the Clippers’ nontraditional center rotation in order to surprise the Clippers in Phoenix for the second time this season.

Los Angeles Clippers

No. 3 in the Western Conference

112.8 ORtg (8th) - 107.7 DRtg (6th) = plus-5.1 netRtg (6th)

Projected starters: Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac

The stretch run is hugely important for the Clippers, even as they enter this game in line for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They need to figure some things out about their team — and stay healthy.

Los Angeles is the NBA’s 22nd-ranked offense over the past two weeks, though after blowing out Memphis in their last game, will be feeling good. Beverley is finally back and healthy, and they have yet another scoring option and strong defensive wing in Morris to further their identity as a versatile, long team.

Still, George has not been himself this year, and the center spot is a weak point. Montrezl Harrell has not proven he can be a difference-maker late in playoff games. It’s not clear if Lou Williams or Landry Shamet can survive defensively.

Those are all May and June problems, not facing-the-Suns-in-February problems, but they are still worth considering — and watching for tonight.

Prediction

Maybe the Suns get a little bit of an emotional boost in their first game without Oubre, coming off a big win in Utah that Bridges admitted was maybe the most fun they’ve had all season. But to me, the Clippers are just too good. To defend them, you need as many players like Oubre as possible, and the Suns don’t have a good way to replace him. There’s only so much Bridges can do defensively against a team with so many perimeter options.

Clippers 110, Suns 102