PHOENIX - The Clippers are looking to keep one streak alive, while snapping another, on Sunday night when they take on the Phoenix Suns at U.S. Airways Center.
Riding a franchise-best 12 consecutive wins, the Clippers (20-6) enter Sunday’s game having lost their previous 10 in row in the Valley of the Sun. It won’t come easy, the Suns (11-16) have won their last four at home by a more than 11.0 points per game.
“They’re scoring the ball, shooting the three, moving some lineups around, [they have] a couple new sets,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “They’re playing the way they’ve played in the past. They’re just executing better and we’re going to have to be ready to go.”
Another streak of note for the Clippers is a franchise-record five straight road wins, tying the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves.
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 97, Kings 85: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul put the Clippers on their backs to help secure their 12th consecutive victory, surpassing the ’74-75 Braves for the most in team history. Paul scored 24 points with 13 assists, five rebounds and five steals, while Griffin added 21 points and 13 rebounds.
“Every night is not always going to be a good win,” said Eric Bledsoe, who threw down an alley-oop dunk from Paul in the fourth quarter and had an astonishing rejection of Kings rookie Thomas Robinson. “It’s going to be a grind it out, ugly kind of game. We just have a little more talent and experience than Sacramento.”
The experience showed down the stretch as Paul, Griffin, Bledsoe and Matt Barnes helped the Clippers pull away after Isaiah Thomas brought Sacramento to within seven on a 3-pointer with 6:34 remaining. The foursome of Clippers scored 15 of the team’s final 17 points, including a pair of 3-pointers from Paul and another one from Barnes.
Trail Blazers 96, Suns 93: After grabbing a 53-44 halftime lead, the Suns seemed on their way to their fifth win in a row. But Portland’s Damian Lillard and J.J. Hickson led the comeback with Lillard canning two jumpers in the final minute to seal the visiting Suns’ fate. Lillard finished with a game-high 25 points and Hickson went for 19 points and 15 rebounds. Phoenix was paced by Marcin Gortat’s 18 points and nine rebounds, while Jared Dudley racked up a career-high 10 assists in the loss.
Blake Griffin vs. Luis Scola. While Paul is widely considered a leading candidate for MVP, it might be time to bring Griffin into the conversation as well. Through 11 games this month, Griffin, who won player of the week 14 days ago, has shot 58.2% from the field and averaged a team-high 19.9 points and 8.8 rebounds. Part of that December run, includes a 24-point, 8-rebound, and 4-assist effort against the Suns in L.A. in which Griffin did not play in the fourth quarter.
The difference between the Dec. 8 matchup and Sunday is that instead of lining up against undersized forward Markieff Morris, Griffin will be tasked with facing Luis Scola, the nifty veteran and longtime Houston Rockets big man. Twice in the last three games Scola, who was re-inserted into the starting lineup on Monday, has scored in double figures, including 14 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in a win over the Kings.
In his career, Griffin has shot 49.3% (38-77) with Scola on the court (seven games), almost 4% worse than his career average.
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
Turnovers. The Clippers are coming off their worst performance of the winning streak as far as protecting the ball, committing 20 turnovers against an undermanned Kings team. The Suns, on the other hand, had just 10 turnovers in their loss to the Trail Blazers.
“We’re just going to come in and play our game,” Bledsoe said. “Take care of the ball and play our game and we should be fine.”
Entering Sunday’s game, the Clippers were number one in the league at forcing turnovers, compared to Phoenix’s number four ranking in fewest turnovers committed. As he mentioned prior to the teams’ meeting in Los Angeles, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry thinks protecting the ball is paramount against a Clippers team that thrives in transition.
Up-tempo Offense vs. Efficient Offense. Phoenix is second in the league in field goal attempts (85.3 per game) and sixth in makes (38.4), while the Clippers are fourth in makes (38.5) but have taken just 80.7 field goals through 26 games. The Suns, however, only average 0.8 more possessions per game than the Clippers, meaning Los Angeles is among the most deadly efficient teams in the NBA. The Clippers are fourth in the NBA in offensive efficiency, averaging 107.2 points per 100 possessions.
The Clippers have not won in Phoenix since April 2007… Suns guard Jared Dudley is averaging 14.2 points on 54.3% shooting in 10 December games… The Clippers are 4-1 this season against Pacific Division opponents, including their 117-99 win over the Suns on Dec. 8…