Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns
US Airways Center
6:00 p.m. PST
March 4, 2014
FOX Prime Ticket
1. True or false: The Phoenix Suns will miss the playoffs.
Andrew Lynch, Hardwood Paroxysm, (@AndrewLynch): False. It’s going to be close – the Suns have a tough stretch over the next four games, including two bouts with the Clippers. But the Hollinger Playoff Odds have Phoenix making the postseason 56 percent of the time, and that feels right. The return of Eric Bledsoe would help, and he was back at practice this weekend, yet the Suns should be in no rush to bring him back to make a run at the eighth seed if it means risking his future. One day at a time is the mantra on that front.
Luke Laubhan, (@LukeLaubhan): Currently, Golden State is the No. 6 seed (24 losses), Dallas is the No. 7 seed (25), Phoenix is the No. 8 seed (24), and Memphis is ninth in the standings (25). The Mavericks are too grizzled and well-coached to fall out, and the Warriors are too desperate. Phoenix has a slightly easier remaining schedule than Memphis (fewer back-to-backs, no Miami or Indiana), and the Grizzlies just feel askew this year. I say Phoenix makes it.
Fred Katz, (@FredKatz): True. As fun as the Suns are to watch, Memphis is poised to make a stretch run, even with its schedule, which is slightly tougher than Phoenix’s. The Grizzlies have undercover returned to last year’s form since Marc Gasol returned from his injury, and if the Suns don’t get Eric Bledsoe back for the rest of the year, they may not be able to hold onto the No. 8 seed.
2. True or false: Jeff Hornacek is the deserving NBA Coach of the Year.
Lynch: True, though I’m more comfortable changing the article. Jeff Horancek is a deserving NBA Coach of the Year; there are several, including the usual suspects of Frank Vogel, Erik Spoelstra, Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich. As much as the award tends to go to teams that significantly overachieve, Hornacek would be a logical choice. It’s really about the first question. If Phoenix makes the playoffs, Hornacek wins Coach of the Year. If they don’t, it becomes an open competition that he probably loses.
Laubhan: First off, all due respect to Alvin Gentry. Phoenix is on pace for 48 wins, 23 more than it registered last season, its most since Steve Nash was Steve Nash. And who exactly plays for this iteration of the Suns? Goran Dragic, 24 games of Eric Bledsoe, and who? Two Morris guys? A Plumlee? 48 wins in the West? That’s like 60 wins in the East. Give the man that odd little trophy.
Katz: False, but it’s close. There’s an under-the-radar storyline happening this season: pretty much all first-time coaches are somewhere between competent and excellent. Steve Clifford, Brad Stevens, Mike Malone, Brett Brown, Mike Budenholzer and Hornacek have all shown that they’re legitimate NBA coaches. But if the Suns miss the playoffs, it’ll be tough for Hornacek to pull off a Coach of the Year win.
3. Was the result of the first Clippers-Suns game (a 107-88 Phoenix win) telling of a matchup problem for LA?
Lynch: Not any one particular matchup problem, but instead a trend that’s afflicted the Clippers all season. Teams that can get the perimeter defenders rotating and in turn penetrate to the rim create chaos that negatively impacts Los Angeles’ defense. The absence of J.J. Redick exacerbates the issue. And Phoenix prides itself on its ball movement and ability to space the floor with shooters to create driving lanes. The Clippers can slow the Suns, but it will require a top-notch effort from everyone on the floor.
Laubhan: No. That first game came on the heels of a rough road back-to-back against Golden State and Portland (two losses by a combined 6 points) and a sluggish game versus the Jazz which the Clippers only won due to Blake Griffin’s 40 points. L.A. was in a lull then, and Phoenix was riding high, 10-2 after a 9-9 start. Now the Clippers are 7-2 in their last 9 games, and they won’t take the Suns lightly.
Katz: Yes. Teams who make impressively quick decisions on the perimeter are the ones who hurt the Clippers most. That’s why LA has struggled against the likes of San Antonio this season. Quick ball movement means the Clippers’ slower (and not always perfect) perimeter players have to rotate perfectly so that they can contest shots. But that doesn’t always happen, and when Channing Frye and the rest of the Suns get open looks from long range, they tend to knock them down.