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Preview: Suns look to sustain Bubble magic vs. Clippers

After two straight wins, the Suns face a juggernaut.

NBA: DEC 03 Trail Blazers at Clippers Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (28-39) vs LA Clippers (45-21)

When: 1 p.m. AZ Time (Pacific)

Where: Orlando Bubble

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona, NBA TV

Listen: ESPN 620 AM


Projected Starters

Suns: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Deandre Ayton

Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac


Phoenix Suns

Okay, this is starting to feel...real. A win over Washington was one thing, but vanquishing Dallas added some legitimacy to the Suns’ Bubble run. And us fans aren’t the only ones taking notice: ESPN’s updated BPI playoff projections now give Phoenix a 0.5% chance at the playoffs. That may not seem like much, but it’s 50 times more likely than the 0.01% chance the Suns were given just a week ago!

Furthermore, the pieces of the puzzle that aren’t in the Suns’ control continue to fall into place. Phoenix is now the only team battling for 8th/9th place that has yet to drop a game in the bubble. They can thank Shake Milton for that, as his three-point dagger last night prevented San Antonio from jumping out to a 3-0 start.

So where do the Suns go from here? Well, virtually every major rotational piece is coming off a good outing...except for Deandre Ayton. Ayton was almost useless against Dallas, logging just 21 minutes of playing time due to foul trouble. And in the time he did play he wasn’t particularly impressive, shooting just 3-8 from the field.

Montrezl Harrell is confirmed out for this one, and that means Ayton has a real chance to dominate players like Zubac, Patrick Patterson, and 35-year-old Joakim Noah on the low block...if he comes in with the right mindset. Booker has already scored 57 points through two games, and no doubt he’ll need to remain consistent with his offense to give Phoenix a chance. But I also don’t think the Suns win this one without a much better performance from Deandre than they got on Sunday.

Los Angeles Clippers

At the time of writing this preview, Lou Williams is considered questionable to play. Williams and Harrell combine for almost 38 PPG, and if neither play one might be lulled into a false sense of security...don’t be. This team easily blew out the Pelicans by 23 without either Williams or Harrell just three days ago.

In that game, George and Leonard combined for 52 points in just 52 minutes. Kawhi continues to be lethal as a one-on-one scorer from all areas of the court, and should the refs decide to once again call ticky-tack fouls, that could put Ayton in early foul trouble. Meanwhile Paul George has been sinking threes at an insane rate, shooting 49 percent from downtown since the All-Star break on over seven attempts per game.

Obviously what makes this team so dangerous is its two All-NBA talents, but there’s depth to this squad as well. Patrick Beverley will no doubt apply intense pressure to Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker all game long. Landry Shamet will lurk behind the perimeter until the defense collapses, seizing opportunities to break your spirit with spot-up threes. The former Sun Marcus Morris has struggled to find his footing in LA’s offense, but is no doubt a starting-caliber self-creator who can drop 20 on you if you’re not careful.

The recent acquisition of Reggie Jackson off waivers is another interesting one, as Jackson may be able to revive his career as a second-unit spark plug. Already he’s averaging 17 points, six rebounds and five assists per 36 minutes through 11 games (65% TS).

As you can tell the Suns will have their hands full, whether or not Lou Williams plays.

Prediction

What kind of Suns fan would I be if I said that this was all going to end right here, right now?

The magic will not run out in Game Three. The Suns will prevail, somehow.

As for strategy, I’m considerably more worried about offense than defense in this one. The lack of Montrezl Harrell should simplify Deandre Ayton’s defensive role considerably. Without Harrell the Clippers don’t have an efficient roll man, and that means Ayton can stay focused on dropping back to protect the rim from Kawhi’s drives. If he beats you with mid-range jumpers then so be it, but you cannot allow him to attack the rim and put you in foul trouble.

Meanwhile, asking Devin Booker to carry the offensive load when one of Beverley, Leonard, or George will likely always be guarding him is tough. It’s really tough. That means some of the offense has to come from somewhere else. Maybe Deandre Ayton has an aggressive, breakout performance. Maybe Cam Johnson hits 8 threes in Marcus Morris’ face. Maybe Dario saves the day from the bench. But someone has to step up.

Prediction: Suns 113, Clippers 109