PREGAME REPORT | JANUARY 24, 2013

 



Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. PST | US Airways Center | Phoenix, AZ | Game Notes »

                

ERIC PATTEN

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PHOENIX – When the NBA schedule was revealed this summer there were two spots for the Clippers that stood out more than any.

The December slate, due to the perceived quality of opponents, nine home games and three back-to-backs, appeared favorable. The Clippers proved it, recording only the third 16-0 month in NBA history.

Their 11-game stretch from late January to mid-February, however, was perhaps viewed as quite the opposite. The upcoming span includes 10 road games, including a season-high eight-game road trip that starts Jan. 30 in Minneapolis. That seemingly daunting number of games away from Staples Center begins Thursday night in Phoenix for the Clippers (32-11).

“It’s going to be a good test,” Matt Barnes said of the next 11 games. “We’ve got to get away from home and rely on each other a lot. We’ve got to get these road wins, so all we can do is go out there and fight.”

It may also start without point guard Chris Paul, who is listed as a game-time decision with a bruised right kneecap. The Clippers are 6-4 all-time when Paul does not play, and lost for the first time in four games this season without him on Tuesday.

Coincidentally, the Clippers actually arrived in Phoenix nearly nine hours before the Suns (14-28) as Hunter’s first game as interim head coach was Wednesday night in Sacramento. His team was expected to arrive back in the desert past 2 a.m. Mountain Time Thursday.

While the personnel for Phoenix remains the same as when L.A. scored a 103-77 victory two days before Christmas in the midst of their franchise record 17-game winning streak, the head coach does not. Alvin Gentry, who also coached the Clippers for parts of three seasons, was replaced by Lindsey Hunter five days ago, following a conference-worst 13-28 start to the season for Gentry and the Suns.

LAST TIME OUT

Thunder 109, Clippers 97: A hot-shooting start to the third quarter for the visiting Thunder combined with Kevin Durant’s second-half brilliance sent the Clippers to their second straight loss Tuesday. Oklahoma went 10-for-12 to start the second half, allowing them to stretch a four-point lead to 16 with 3:19 left in the period. While the Clippers were 5-for-9 during that span, they split free throws on four trips. Meanwhile, the Thunder connected on six 3-pointer out their 10 makes.

Playing without Paul for the fourth time in six games, the Clippers battled back to close to within seven. But Durant fended them off, scoring 24 of his game-high 32 points in the second half, including burying 3-pointers on consecutive possessions midway through the fourth that made it 96-82.

Durant’s performance offset 31 points, 11 rebounds and five assists from Blake Griffin. And the Thunder matched a season-high for a Clippers opponent with 15 made 3-pointers. They outscored the Clippers, who went 4-for-16, by 33 points from long range.

“They got into their rhythm a lot getting the ball to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook,” said Jamal Crawford , who had 14 points off the bench. “That’s just not who we have been defensively this season, so I think that we just need to get our rhythm back and once we get that back we can start rolling again.”

Suns 106, Kings 96: The Suns won Hunter’s first game despite allowing 57 first-half points to host Sacramento. They rallied thanks in large part to Michael Beasley, who scored 13 of his 19 points in the decisive fourth quarter. Phoenix outscored the Kings, 32-19, in the fourth. Luis Scola had 21 points and seven rebounds and Goran Dragic totaled 12 points and 11 assists for the Suns, who presented Hunter with the game ball in the locker room afterwards. DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings with 15 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.

NOTEWORTHY MATCHUP

Lamar Odom vs. Marcin Gortat. While Odom is a reserve and Gortat among one of Phoenix’s most counted on starters, it is likely Odom will be asked to guard the 6-foot-11 Polish center late in the game. Odom has effectively been tagged as the fourth-quarter big man next to Griffin. He has averaged 8.8 minutes per game in 12 fourth quarters this month, compared to starting center DeAndre Jordan, who has made two fourth-quarter appearances in January.

Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro has said one of the reasons he likes Odom on the floor late is because it stretches the opposing defense and gives the Clippers another person to initiate the offense. That could work out well against a Phoenix team that has few shot blockers outside of Gortat. If Odom draws him out of the paint, it could open things.

Statistically, Odom and Gortat are among the NBA’s best rebounders over the last five games. Gortat, who leads the Suns with 15 double-doubles, has 52 rebounds in that span, while Odom has 48.

TWO THINGS TO WATCH

Field goal percentage. The Clippers have failed to reach 100 points in each of their last four games. This comes after just two weeks ago leading the NBA in number of games topping the century mark. This is in part due to the Clippers’ inconsistency from the field. Against the Thunder, they shot 38.8% in the first half and have not shot better than 45.8% in any of the last four, two of which were losses. Despite their downward trend, the Clippers are still fourth in the NBA, averaging 47.4% from the field per game.

Point guard rotation. If Paul is unable to play, Bledsoe will assuredly start at point guard. However, Bledsoe’s backup could be by committee. On Tuesday Crawford suggested that he will play some point guard, but that Willie Green and Grant Hill could help bring the ball up the court. Del Negro has expanded that designation to at times include Odom and even small forward Matt Barnes. How the minutes are divvied up at point guard may be particularly interesting Thursday, considering the Clippers managed just 15 assists two days earlier against the Thunder (Griffin had five of them).

NOTES

The Clippers have won three in a row against the Suns, including their 26-point victory on Dec. 23, 2012, which was first win in the Valley of the Sun in five years… The Suns are 1-8 on the second night of back-to-backs… Phoenix has lost four in a row at home and 13 of their last 16 overall… L.A. has struggled to defend the 3-point line in the last two games, allowing 12 makes to Golden State and 15 to Oklahoma City. The Suns, however, shoot 33.2% on the season (28th in the league) and average just six makes per game… Hunter played for Del Negro for two seasons when Del Negro was head coach of the Bulls.

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