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Preview: Suns return home to play last game of tough West stretch against the Clippers

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Another great early test for the dominant, new-look Suns.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

What: Los Angeles Clippers (4-2) at Phoenix Suns (5-1)

When: 6:00 p.m. MST

Where: Phoenix Suns Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Off to their best start in years, the Suns face another big test as they return home to host the Clippers for their sixth game in nine days.

It’s also a rematch of the Bubble matchup that ended with Devin Booker’s now-famous fallaway buzzer beater from the left elbow. But this Clippers team looks slightly different, as of course do these Suns.

Projected starting lineups

Suns: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton

Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Nic Batum, Serge Ibaka

Phoenix Suns

5-1 record, No. 1 in the Western Conference

113.2 offensive rating (7th) - 102.0 defensive rating (3rd) = plus-11.2 net rating (1st)

There’s no better way to put it than this: The Suns have been a relentless machine so far this season. Chris Paul wasn’t kidding when he was asked about the first five games and his only response was that they should have beaten Sacramento last Saturday. He doubled down postgame on Friday, setting the precedent that the Suns aimed to be the most prepared and consistent team in the NBA.

“One thing we won’t ever lack the entire season heading into a game is preparation,” he told reporters on a postgame Zoom call.

The Suns’ leader also highlighted how even though the team is not focused on the specific standings at this point in the season, it’s an important opportunity to bank wins.

Against a Clippers squad bound to be competing for a top seed in the Western Conference this season, Sunday night is a big early matchup for both seeding and confidence.

As for injuries, only Jalen Smith (left ankle sprain) and Abdel Nader (concussion protocol) are out for the game.

Los Angeles Clippers

4-2, Tied for third in the Western Conference

119.7 offensive rating (1st) - 115.2 defensive rating (25th) = plus-4.5 net rating (8th)

So far this season, the Clippers have been quite lopsided toward offense. They are without Marcus Morris, whose knee continues to bother him after missing the entire preseason. And new head coach Ty Lue is playing a trimmed-down rotation with basically just eight players: the starters plus Ivica Zubac, Lou Williams and Luke Kennard. There have been some minutes for Reggie Jackson as well.

The Clippers can’t quite chalk up their early defensive failures to lucky opponent shooting, either. They rank just 12th in opponent three-point percentage, but are allowing opponents to shoot over 50 percent from midrange, a number that should surely settle down even if it’s a shot that the team mostly is OK giving up. Nobody gives up that type of number over a full year in the NBA.

Because the Clippers play so small now, with three wings at all times as well as a downsized starting center in Ibaka, this one should be another high-scoring affair similar to the Denver game. Los Angeles is shooting the three well to start the season just like the Suns, pushing the pace efficiently off missed shots, and generally making good use of all the offensive talent they’ve accumulated. Now it’s just a matter of if the Clippers can start to get stops.

Aside from Morris’ health, the Clippers are mostly at full strength and should be rested coming off a game on Friday in Utah.

Prediction

A high-scoring game should favor the team that can lock down defensively most often, and especially at home, I’ll say that favors the Suns, especially as they catch the Clippers while they’re still gelling.

Suns 125, Clippers 115