What: Game 1, Round 1, Western Conference, 2023 Playoffs
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: Bally Sports Arizona, TNT
Listen: 98.7 FM
DraftKings Betting line: Suns favored in Game 1 at -7.5 points; prop: -500 for series
At long last, it’s here. Eleven months. 82 regular season games. 45% roster turnover.
Finally, the Phoenix Suns get the chance to avenge their embarrassing second-round series loss to the Dallas Mavericks in a best-of-seven they had led 2-0 and 3-2. They won Game 5 by 30, but then absolutely collapsed to lose the last two by 60. That’s not an exaggeration. I’m not rounding up. Those are the actual numbers.
Now they get a chance to make it all better. They need to prove which playoff run was the anomaly. The early exit? Or the Finals run? This year’s run will make the case. If the Suns can play well, make it deep into these playoffs, they can build a reputation as a perennial contender with Durant and Book leading the way going forward and the 2022 meltdown will be a distant memory. Another early exit, however, and their entire future will be in question.
They face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round this year — a Clippers team that looks a lot like that 2021 squad they beat in the Conference Finals: one star surrounded by a bunch of good role players. This time it’s Kawhi Leonard who’s healthy and Paul George who’s not. Around Kawhi, the ‘same sames’ from 2021 are Ivica Zubac, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris and Nicolas Batum. They’ve upgraded Reggie Jackson to Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley to Norman Powell, and they’ve added Eric Gordon and Mason Plumlee to the rotation. We’ll also likely see Robert Covington get minutes over Marcus Morris.
The Suns ‘same sames’ from the 2021 Conference Finals are Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, Cameron Payne and Torrey Craig. They’ve upgraded Mikal Bridges to Kevin Durant, replaced Jae Crowder with Josh Okogie and Cameron Johnson with T.J. Warren. The latter two can be seen as downgrades, but the acquisition of Kevin Durant makes up for it. They’ve also added Landry Shamet and Bismack Biyombo to the primary rotation.
Probable Starting Lineups
- Suns: Cameron Payne (tailbone/back) is QUESTIONABLE
- Clippers: Paul George (knee) is OUT to start the series, but has traveled to Phoenix to join the Clips for Games 1 and 2 soooo....
Tyronn Lue on Paul George:— Law Murray ❎️ (@LawMurrayTheNU) April 14, 2023
"We're definitely not going to do anything to hurt PG. Even if he does try to come back, and if he's not right, then we're not going to let him go. Because we're not going to let him injure himself and make it worse than what it really is." https://t.co/tHfx8MBoYg pic.twitter.com/OuxHHde1ib
Looking at the rundown of changes since the 2021 WCF, you might think the Clippers are better — even without Paul George to start the series — while the Suns got worse. But Kevin Durant solves a lot of problems, and the betting sites have the Suns as the favorites to come out of the West while the Clips get some of the worst odds... probably because they have to start against the Suns.
Here’s the odds from our friends at DraftKings.
As for Game 1 today, the Suns are favored by 7.5 points.
- The 6’9” defensive specialist Robert Covington was seen at Clippers practice this week in a ‘starters’ colored jersey, so it’s possible he gets the start over Batum to defend Kevin Durant.
- If Paul George returns at any point in this series, it will be the first time in two years that teammates Kawhi Leonard and Paul George played in the same playoff or play-in game. The Clippers are 2-2 in four series across two playoffs together (2020 and 2021)
- Russell Westbrook can’t shoot well, but has made a career-high 35% of 3.5 three-point attempts since joining the Clippers (21 games). What he does well is get out in transition and force the action at the rim in early offense, pass well and get hustle rebounds.
“Once you know that this thing counts now. It’s not 82 of these games. It’s only 16 of them. It’s like, ooooh,” says Deandre Ayton after practice on Friday. “Family and everybody had 82 games to do their thing. Now it’s time to lock in.”
Everyone is healthy and playing, except for Cameron Payne who’s still nursing a sore back from landing hard on his backside a week ago.
55/40/90 Club for one, please
This season, mostly with the Brooklyn Nets, Kevin Durant became the first player in NBA history to make 55% of his shots overall, 40% of his threes and 90% of his free throws. Making this more impressive is that Durant mostly shoots jump shots from around to outside the paint, and gets 6+ free throws per game as well.
NBA Leaders in Short Jump Shots via Synergy— Beyond the RK (@beyondtheRK) April 15, 2023
Markelle Fultz is T-38th with Joel Embiid in Short Jump Shot Scoring Efficiency (0.99 PPP)
(min. 50+ Non-Rim FGA below 17 feet) pic.twitter.com/NBeb8NPbAz
Phoenix Suns Day
The Arizona House of Representatives declared April 16 as ‘Phoenix Suns Day’. District 26 Representative Cesar Aguilar spearheaded the motion, celebrating the partnership between Arizona’s original professional sports franchise and legislative leaders.
Suns and Clippers in Playoffs
The Clippers playoff record since bringing in PG and Kawhi:
- 2020 — finished 2nd in West, lost in second round (4-3) to Denver Nuggets
- 2021 — finished 4th in West, lost in Conference Finals (4-2) to Phoenix Suns
- 2022 — finished 7th in West, lost both play-in games, missed playoffs
- 2023 — finished 5th in West... TBD
The Suns playoff record since bringing in Chris Paul:
- 2021 — finished 2nd in West, lost in NBA Finals (4-2) to Milwaukee Bucks
- 2022 — finished 1st in West, lost in second round (4-3) to Dallas Mavericks
- 2023 — finished 4th in West... TBD
For the season, the Suns have a 114.5 offensive rating, 112.3 defensive rating and +2.2 net rating.
With Durant in the lineup, however, the Suns have a 120 offensive rating, 107.3 defensive rating and +12.7 net rating. It’s only 8 games, I know (10% of the season), but pretty good evidence that the Suns are better with Durant than without, even while walking through the motions of new sets.
Keys to a Suns win
- Play with force, rebounding misses on both ends and winning more than half the loose balls
- Limit live-ball turnovers in the back court
- Limit fouls committed — use body and positioning to defend, not hands
Keys to a Clippers win
- Create chaos, force turnovers on passes, convert those into easy scores
- Run off makes and misses, with Westbrook leading the way in transition
- Get to the free throw line early and often
Suns are 6-0 in Game 1s since returning to the playoffs in 2021. They are favored by 7.5 points by the oddsmakers.
Got to predict a win. 114-106 Suns.