The Clippers will face a Suns team that they haven’t seen in their first three meetings, not that any of those teams were exactly the same (pre-Marcin/VC trade, Marcin/VC trade adjustment period, post-Marcin/VC trade), but now the Suns have fallen two games below .500 and are 5.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Over at Valley of the Suns:
With the Phoenix Suns mired in a four-game losing streak that has dropped them 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot and caused the Hollinger Playoff Odds to decrease their chances of reaching the postseason to an honest 0 percent, it begs the question how much longer will Steve Nash continue giving everything he has for a season gone awry?
Just because of the emotions, the recent performance, the Suns could easily add to their losing streak. They had expectations, like always, of making the playoffs and despite some stretches of solid play mixed with a great addition in Marcin Gortat, the Suns are practically but not mathematically eliminated. Even if they won the last 8 games, Memphis could win only 3 games (and they have two against the Clippers) and still have a clear lead in the standings.
Clipper fans will remember how the Clippers handled their apparent practical elimination from the playoffs when they lost to the Bulls on February 2 (or earlier against the Rockets and Mavs), the Clippers then went on a 2-9 road trip. Only rare nights drew much energy from the Clippers as a collective.
The Suns are a veteran team, so they’re not looking to develop a chemistry and identity, but maintain health for the future. Every win is a stepping stone for the Clippers right now, and if anything, they need to take advantage of teams when they are down. The Clips need to develop the habits necessary to win with consistency and every game provides that opportunity.
In other news, Ryan Gomes’ knee has been bothering him and he might eventually be shut down for the season. While this doesn’t change the problem that the Clippers have had at small forward this year (Gomes played his worst season of his career), a dimension of the problem is added, or removed. Now, the Clippers only have three options: 1) give Gomes’ minutes to Al-Farouq Aminu, 2) give Gomes’ minutes to Jamario Moon or 3) give those minutes to the Clippers three guard lineup of Bledsoe, Gordon and Foye.
At this juncture, none of those options are particularly appealing. Aminu has shown glimpses, but is still a project. Jamario has had flashes, but his career is just a series of flashes (check out Ben Golliver’s post at Blazer’s Edge on Malcom Gladwell’s famous 10,000 hour principle applied to Gerald Wallace and Jamario Moon). And having Gordon or Foye spend time at the three minimizes Gordons ability to defend or leaves Randy Foye out to be not just a streaky defender but a wildly bad one.
Since the Clippers are playing for the future, playing Farouq more seems like a no-brainer. Aminu had his best stretch of the year when he was starting (don’t you vaguely remember that 20 point, 8 rebound performance against the Hornets back in November?), and needs minutes to develop. Although after Vinny’s post-game talk about the rookies (Aminu and Bledsoe) not being consistent enough, Jamario and the three guard lineup might see more run.
Keys to the Game
– Steve Nash v. Mo Williams. As Mo has shown, he’s ready to attack any time he a poor defensive point guard covers him. He lit up Derek Fisher, as well as Jason Kidd in the quarter Kidd covered him, but Mo’s not a good defensive player. Nash is also not a good defensive point guard, but the offensive capabilities between Nash and Mo are not even remotely close. While Mo seems to have ‘distributor’ mode and ‘scorer’ mode, Nash is better than Mo in both scoring and distributing and to top it off, is always in both modes. Cut off Nash’s passing lanes, he’ll drive to the hole for a circus layup. Collapse on Nash and suffer the Suns getting a wide open three. That’s really the distinction between guys like Mo and Nash, the ability to not fall into a zone, because that zone makes defending that player easier. Although Nash may not play much or at all, which would be huge for the Clippers.
– Blake v. the Phoenix Bigs. Blake had one of his least efficient games against the Phoenix in their last match-up (17 points on 6 for 18 shooting), largely due to the new defensive presence of the Suns. Both Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez provide the length and athleticism requisite to bothering Blake.
– Eric Gordon. He hasn’t been playing nearly as consistently as of late, and that’s of some concern. Not sure whether that’s due to his wrist, or Mo’s ability to get the ball in Eric’s favorite spots. The good news is that both can be remedied, although not right away.
Mickael Pietrus: knee, questionable