Poor interior defense is partly to blame for the Phoenix Suns' recent struggles. A matchup with Chris Kaman isn't likely to help.
The Suns seek to bounce back from yet another road loss when they return to Staples Center to face the last-place Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, when they'll have to contend with Kaman in the paint.
Phoenix's lead in the Pacific Division was cut to one game after a 122-115 loss to the second-place Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Tuesday. It was the Suns' fourth loss in their last five games on the road, and they have dropped five of eight overall.
"We haven't played that great and we are still right there," Phoenix swingman Grant Hill said. "We are due for a little run."
The Suns (19-9), though, need to do a better job of battling in the paint. Lakers center Andrew Bynum had 28 points and 12 rebounds Tuesday in the latest outstanding performance by a big man against Phoenix.
Last Saturday, Phoenix beat Toronto 122-103, but allowed forward Chris Bosh to score 42 points and grab 13 rebounds. The Suns also let Tim Duncan get 36 points and 17 boards in Phoenix's 100-95 win at San Antonio on Dec. 17.
Next up for the Suns is Kaman, the Clippers' emerging center. Kaman had 17 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks against Phoenix on Nov. 23 in the teams' first meeting this season, but the Suns won 113-94.
Kaman has flourished in developing into one of the NBA's top centers, averaging 18.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. Injury-riddled Los Angeles (9-17) has leaned heavily on Kaman, who has had 12 straight double-doubles.
The Clippers don't have much else going for them.
Starting forward Corey Maggette (knee) sat out Saturday's 99-90 loss to San Antonio, and his status for Thursday is uncertain. He is averaging 20.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Rookie Al Thornton stepped in for Maggette, finishing with 25 points in his second career start.
Already thin at forward, Tim Thomas sprained his left knee in the first quarter against the Spurs and is listed as day-to-day for Thursday's contest. Thomas is averaging 12.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Even before those injuries, the Clippers were already without guard Shaun Livingston and forward Elton Brand. Paul Davis, meanwhile, is out indefinitely after hurting his right knee in a loss to Dallas on Friday night.
Los Angeles, however, did have Sam Cassell back Saturday for the first time since Nov. 26. The veteran guard, who had sat out with a strained left calf, had six points in nine minutes, with Brevin Knight starting at point guard again.
Knight and Cassell will have the daunting task of guarding Phoenix's Steve Nash, who had 20 points and 10 assists versus Los Angeles in the teams' November matchup. Nash bounced back from a seven-point effort in a win over Toronto on Saturday night by finishing with 24 points and 14 assists against the Lakers.
Six of Nash's teammates scored in double figures, including Hill (14). Hill, who has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, started his 27th consecutive game to open the season for his longest such streak since playing the first 39 games for Detroit eight years ago.
Hill is averaging 17.5 points while shooting 59.1 percent (26-for-44) from the floor in his last four games.
Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited