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Game Preview: Suns continue tough early stretch on the road against Clippers

Suns look to avoid a losing record in third game of season

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (1-1) @ LA Clippers (2-0)

When: 7:00 p.m. AZ time

Where: Arena, Los Angeles, CA

Watch: Bally Sports AZ

Listen: 98.7 FM

DraftKings Betting Lines: Suns +2.5, O/U, Suns Moneyline +120

The season is still young, but these two teams look like polar opposite in terms of makeup. The Suns have struggled to find stable ground behind their stars at times, whereas a bevy of wing depth has pushed the Clippers through sparse participation from superstar Kawhi Leonard, still working his way back to full activity.

That includes Saturday night, when the Clippers got a rare 40-point game from Paul George (his 4th game of 40+ since arriving in LA, a fact that surprises me a good bit), but were helped by George’s teammates shooting 50% from three and only turning the ball over nine times.

From a star standpoint, however, the Suns’ duo of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton has become just as, if not more, formidable compared to the Clippers’ duo of Leonard and Paul George, at least from where we stand less than a full week into the season.

Booker and Ayton are combining for 52.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists, and 1.5 steals over the two games, and both are legitimate needle-movers on defense at this point in their respective careers. The duo has a net rating of +17.2 through their first 64 minutes together on the season.

But we all know the struggles with the Suns are due to the bench and its sketchy nature. It’s still unclear how safe it is to count on Damion Lee, but if he can keep his play up it’ll be a godsend for this bench. Landry Shamet may be back and he may help that dynamic as well, especially if he looks like the Shamet from the Lakers preseason game when he tallied 21 points in as many minutes.

In any case, the Clippers’ depth is beastly in comparison with the Suns. Across each team’s first two games, the Clippers had four different players come off the bench and reach double-figures. Meanwhile, the Suns have had just one — Lee’s 11 points vs Dallas. That depth is only further hurt by the likely absence of Cam Johnson, dealing with a hip issue.

Suns injury report:

  • Probable: Landry Shamet (left hip strain; would make regular season debut)
  • Questionable: Cam Johnson (right hip contusion)
  • Not with team: Jae Crowder (trade request)

Clippers injury report is clean. Kawhi Leonard and John Wall each sat out vs Kings on Saturday (first game of back-to-back, opted to play in this, their home opener) after both came off the bench in win over Lakers on Thursday.

Probable starters:

Suns: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Torrey Craig (if Johnson is unable), Deandre Ayton

Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Norm Powell, Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr. (if Leonard still comes off the bench), Ivica Zubac

Three key connections between squads:

  • Chris Paul played six seasons with the Clippers, where he holds the franchise’s all-time assists title. Clippers reached the playoffs in all six of Paul’s seasons; they have six playoff appearances across the other 30 seasons since moving to Los Angeles.
  • Clippers head coach Ty Lue was Cleveland’s head coach when now-Suns GM James Jones was a Cavalier from 2015-16 to 2016-17, and they won the title in the first of the two.
  • Suns forward Dario Saric and Clippers center Ivica Zubac have been teammates on the Croatian national team for nearly a decade.

Historic territory:

  • Paul: two assists away from becoming third player ever with 11,000 all time (Jason Kidd and John Stockton); once he reaches the mark, he will be the only player with 20,000+ points along with the 11,000 assists
  • Booker: After moving past Steve Nash for 7th all-time on the franchise’s made field goals list on Friday, Booker is now 42 made shots away from passing A’mare Stoudemire for 6th.

What to watch for:

The group matchups between the stars and the benches stand out to me, but I’m also looking to Ayton specifically in hopes that he’ll continue his All-Star-level play.

You may remember his dominance against this team in a 6-game series a few summers back when Ayton averaged 17.8 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks. I’d expect that dominance to continue, especially given his added aggression around the rim in this young season.


It’s hard for me to not worry about how the benches match up with each other. I’m just not sure that Booker and Ayton are enough to lift the Suns past as well-constructed a squad as this. We could even see heroic statlines from the two in a loss.

Or something like in the Dallas game will happen, where an unsung bench piece could rise above the rest.

I’m thinking the Suns lose this one, 116-108.

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