Suns-Clippers Game Preview
The Phoenix Suns needed to finish strong to make the playoffs, but they've done anything but as the season winds down - due very much to their inability to finish strong in the fourth quarter.
Phoenix, loser of four in a row, could find itself eliminated from postseason contention by the end of Friday night as it faces the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Suns (36-38) would miss the playoffs if they are unable to beat the Clippers and eighth-place Memphis wins at New Orleans. Phoenix, 10th in the Western Conference, could at best finish tied with the Grizzlies under that scenario, and Memphis took the season series 2-1.
The Suns would also be eliminated if they end up in a tie with Houston and Utah as well as Memphis, based on winning percentage in all games among the tied teams.
Phoenix's poorly timed losing streak has been due in large part to the club's struggles in the fourth quarter. The Suns have been outscored by an average of 11.0 points in the final period of the last four games.
On Wednesday, they were outscored 37-25 in the final 12 minutes of a 116-98 home loss to Oklahoma City.
"We just can't seem to put any offense together to start the fourth quarter," coach Alvin Gentry said. "That's where most of the teams seem to be getting separation between us."
The Suns, who open a five-game trip Sunday against NBA-leading San Antonio and face East-leading Chicago on Tuesday, last dropped five in a row during a six-game slide March 3-12, 2009.
Phoenix, though, has won 21 of the last 27 meetings with Los Angeles. The Suns defeated the Clippers 116-108 on Nov. 26 in the lone matchup at Phoenix this season, and have won the last seven home game in the series by an average of 17.9 points.
Los Angeles (29-46) will miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. It's 2-19 on the road versus Western Conference teams, with the victories coming against woeful Sacramento and Minnesota.
"I'm trying to see who wants to compete, get coached and be developed," coach Vinny Del Negro said following a 106-100 home loss to Dallas on Wednesday. "I'm trying to see what type of nucleus we have with our core guys and trying to continue to develop our young players."
Blake Griffin is certainly part of that nucleus. The forward posted his 57th double-double Wednesday with 25 points and 17 rebounds and set the franchise's single-season rookie record with 1,682 points.
Griffin, averaging 21.7 points and team-high 9.3 boards against Phoenix this season, had 28 and 12 as the Clippers snapped a nine-game skid to Phoenix with a 108-103 victory Dec. 26.
Suns point guard Steve Nash, who had 21 points and 15 assists in that game, is averaging team highs of 20.0 points, 12.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds against Los Angeles this season.
Matched up against Clippers newcomer Mo Williams, Nash scored 23 points with 13 assists and seven rebounds in a 108-99 victory March 20.
Williams had 18 points, seven assists and seven boards in that contest and is averaging 17.1 points since being acquired by Cleveland in February.
The Clippers have played better of late, going 8-6 since a 2-12 stretch
Copyright 2011 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