What has always amazed me about the Phoenix Suns, beyond Steve Nash’s abilities to run the point, has been the way that the team keeps its players on the court. They allow Steve Nash to play like Steve Nash because he’s always on the court. Since Nash joined the Phoenix Suns, he has missed only 27 games in his 7 seasons, fewer than 4 per season.
To put that in Clipper terms, Eric Gordon has missed 26 games just this year. And Gordon is a young guy. Nash was, in his youngest season with the Suns, 30 years old. That’s the time in a player’s career when the body starts to break down, especially for a run and gun point guard like Nash.
And while the argument could be made that Nash is a freak of nature (which is true) that has the discipline to adapt to his aging body, consider the rest of the players on the Suns. Grant Hill was the most famous “What If?” for years, his talent compared (rightly or wrongly) to Jordan, but the tragic foot and ankle problems left him almost forgotten. With the Magic, Hill missed 146 games in his first two seasons with the Magic (he played all but 18 of them). Overall, he missed 282 games in his 6 seasons with the Magic. He was all but written off. However, with the Suns, Hill misses only 12 games in his first season, the fewest games missed in 7 years. But even that was just an acclimation year, as Hill has missed only 3 games total in his three seasons since. Hell, the Suns even got a 36-year-old Shaquille O’Neal to play 75 games. You know how many games Shaq averaged in the two years before (in, as old people know, the joint friendly state of Florida)? 51.5 games.
Imagine what that kind of training staff could do with the Clippers, a team perpetually snake-bitten by injuries. How would this team be doing if it had Eric Gordon for all but say 4 games? How about Kaman only missing 6 games? And Baron starting the season off healthy? Maybe Blake wouldn’t have missed his entire first year? The Clippers would have been totally different, maybe even a winning team (although, I guess you could argue that the injuries also allowed the team to find its new identity).
Whatever the case is, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of Donald Sterling to hire these guys away. I know he would have to pay a pretty penny for training staff, but he might be able to be swayed when he realizes how many games played and wins the training staff could save him, as well as how much money it would earn Sterling.
Keys to the Game
– Steve Nash. Offensively, Nash is just about as good of a point guard as there is. Collapse on him, and he’ll find the open man. Make him a scorer and he’s highly efficient. What the Clippers have to do is gameplan for him. Either give him one option or the other. Because if the Clippers get caught in defensive indecision, they’re going to regret it.
– Blake Griffin v. Phoenix Bigs (and Grant Hill). Offensively, Blake opened up last game against the Cavs, but he’ll have more difficult opposition this time. While Phoenix does play at a high pace and aren’t known for their quality bigs, they now have a slightly different situation. Back in December they traded for Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, Marcin Gortat and a first rounder. Vince’s name is the most recognizable, but make no mistake, it’s Gortat that the Suns wanted. In the second matchup, Blake scored 28 points on 8 for 11 shooting, and was slowed down by Grant Hill in the second half, but the Suns had just made the trade and hadn’t gained the momentum they have now. Blake and the Clippers will have to fight BG’s own slowdown as well as the much improved Phoenix bigs and their defense (the Suns were once a pitiful 30th in defensive efficiency and now they’re 23rd, over 3 efficiency points better).
– Getting the whole team involved (keeping Eric Gordon on the floor). The Clippers, finally, have their full complement of players today, and it’s a huge relief to have Eric Gordon back on the court, his leadership, defense and timely shooting was sorely missed. But the Clippers now have to figure out how to spread it around. I like that Mo only took 6 shots with Gordon back in the lineup, and I find it comforting to see that he played so well with Bledsoe spending some of Mo’s minutes on floor. On this team, the most important issue is to understand that Blake and Gordon are the first options on the outside and the inside, and that everyone else is secondary (except Kaman as a bench player). Not that secondary isn’t imperative in the team’s success, it is, but the secondary players might see a larger fluctuation in shot attempts. Like Mo last game, they might only see six shots one game, and then 15 shots another game. The Clippers just need to cohere so they can keep an unselfish mentality that will allow the offense to not devolve into stagnation with one player trying to get his shots.
Gani Lawal: right knee, out