Take away the three extra games the Clippers have played to this point, and – at worst – they and the Suns would be tied for the Pacific Division lead right now.
As it is, L.A. sits a game-and-a-half ahead of Phoenix heading into tonight’s contest in Los Angeles. The Suns are wrapping up a three-games-in-four-nights stretch that started with a 29-point loss at Golden State and continued with a 14-point home win over Philadelphia.
Will Phoenix finish 2013 off with its 19th win of the young season? Here’s five things that will decide the answer.
Will Suns Get Up For Another Western Game?
Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek is an advocate of mid-season effort, which he feels often gets missed between the early season excitement of November and late playoff pushes of March and April.
Phoenix has done well in that regard, and in a West-heavy stretch of games to boot. They have faced just one Eastern Conference opponent since Dec. 6, and that was just their sixth out-of-conference game this season out of 29 games.
If the Suns muster enough night-to-night energy for yet another important game, particularly against a nearby contender, they could enter 2014 with even more confidence and higher opinions from around the league.
Are the Clippers in a Funk?
Can a team that has only lost two of its last eight games be in a funk? It depends on how you view the following:
L.A. needed overtime to top a struggling Minnesota team by four. They then lost to Golden State by two and at Portland by four, again in overtime. Finally, the fifth-highest scoring team in the league mustered just 98 points on Saturday, when they didn’t pull away from conference-worst Utah until the final minutes.
How Fired Up Will Bledsoe Be?
The Suns’ point guard wasted no time playing in-your-face defense against Chris Paul when the two teams faced off in a preseason game. How much more motivated will he be playing in the building that saw him see the bench more than the court?
To his credit, Bledsoe has repeatedly affirmed that his time with the Clippers is “in the past” and that “this is a new time.”
Just don’t be shocked if he reminds L.A. of that with his play.
Will Griffin’s Tear Continue?
Don’t point to Blake Griffin for the Clippers’ recent inconcsistencies. In his last five games, the fourth-year forward is putting up 30.2 points and 12.2 rebounds while shooting 55 percent from the field and 81.6 percent from the free throw line.
He poured in 40 points on Saturday at Utah, but what was most impressive was his performance at the charity stripe: 17 attempts, 14 makes.
If Griffin’s struggles from the free throw line come to an end, so does the majority of criticisms that come his way.
Can Plumlee Go Back-to-Back?
The Suns’ up-and-coming big man netted career highs in points (22, Saturday) and rebounds (20, Monday) last week. His big games are hard to miss, since they’re usually punctuated by similarly big numbers and/or highlight appearances.
He and Phoenix would love to see all of the above more often. Plumlee hasn’t been able to string together back-to-back double-doubles since the first two games of the season. Part of that is due to matchups. Against smaller teams, he will often take a willing and supportive seat in favor of Markieff Morris or Channing Frye.
Yet Monday night presents a need and an opportunity for him in the paint against Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. That and there’s this gem Plumlee uttered after his 20-rebound performance against the Lakers.