Clippers-Suns Game 1 Betting Preview: Where Value Lies Without Leonard, Paul

Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals will start without two superstars. What should bettors expect Sunday?

Clippers vs. Suns Odds

Clippers Odds +4.5
Suns Odds -4.5
Moneyline +150 / -182
Over/Under 221.5
Time Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Odds as of Saturday and via DraftKings

It’s finally here, the Western Conference Finals, but the two teams that made it here likely are not the squads you expected to see.

Sure, one team is from Los Angeles, but it’s the Clippers not the Lakers. And the other is a Phoenix Suns team that took down the reigning champion Lakers and then dismantled the NBA Most Valuable Player Award winner and the Nuggets in four games.

But we are heading into Game 1 with a lot of uncertainty regarding both the Clippers and the Suns. With Chris Paul in the league’s health and safety protocols and Kawhi Leonard out with a sprained knee, we are missing two of the NBA’s brightest stars.

Let’s unpack the news, these teams and how the absences may impact this matchup.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers will be without Leonard, who did not travel with the team to Phoenix. It appears likely he will miss at least the first two games of the series.

In his stead, we’ve seen massive upticks in production from Paul George, who truly rose to the moment and averaged 32.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 43 minutes without Leonard in Games 5 and 6. George has been this team’s anchor and proven himself to be a successful facilitator.

Playoff P is here.

The Clippers have had the best offensive rating throughout the playoffs, and their defense has held its own against the powerful offenses of the Mavericks and the Jazz. The Clippers are scoring 124.3 points per 100 possessions and even though this is an uptick from their regular season number of 118.6, there is reason to believe they can continue this offensive pace.

Los Angeles has a team of elite shooters and a postseason best eFG% of 58.6% based on an expected 54.8%, per Cleaning the Glass. This is not a concerning difference, the Clippers make tough shots and have the best field goal percentage from mid range while also shooting a blistering 40.5% from 3 point range.

This Clippers team has continued to play well throughout the playoffs, and much of this can be attributed to head coach Tyron Lue. He definitely could have made a few adjustments in the series against the Jazz a bit sooner, but the fact that he actually adjusted, played smaller, and forced Rudy Gobert out of his comfort zone of drop coverage was not only smart, but necessary.

Having a coach that’s willing to adjust and adapt on the fly will be critical to take on this Suns team, especially when Paul returns.

One thing I’m curious to see is whether the Clippers continue playing small ball and limit Ivica Zubac minutes, or if they try to match him up against Deandre Ayton. If Ayton can capitalize against a smaller Los Angeles lineup and force Zubac to play more minutes, it will put a bit of a damper on the explosiveness of the Clippers’ offense by limiting their spacing. This is something to look for not only in Game 1, but throughout the series.

Phoenix Suns

The Suns announced on Saturday that Paul remains in the league’s health and safety protocols. Later that night, it was reported that he is out for Game 1. Keep tabs on his status using our Fantasy Labs Insiders Tool.

Assuming Paul is out, Cameron Payne will likely enter the starting lineup.

Paul is clearly the engine that moves this team by facilitating the offense while also limiting turnovers. I firmly believe that his presence on the floor this season has elevated Devin Booker because the sharpshooter is not being tasked with being the primary ball handler on every possession.

When Paul has been on the floor this postseason, the Suns are +11.4 points per 100 possessions, but they’re 13.1 points better over the last six games when it seemed like Paul had healed up from his shoulder injury.

The Suns have held their own without Paul, though, and posted positive point differentials with him off the floor as long as Payne has been on the floor.

There is not enough reliable data for the postseason with both Paul and Payne off the floor but if we turn to the regular season, the Suns slip to -1.7 points per 100 possessions when both Paul and Payne are off the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. Payne has averaged just 20.4 minutes per game in the playoffs, but the two games he needed to step up due to Paul’s injury and played more than 26 minutes (Games 2 and 3 vs. the Lakers), the Suns dropped both of those games. This is something to watch for live-betting purposes if Paul is unable to go for more than just Game 1.

Clippers-Suns Pick

The Clippers took two of three from the Suns this season but given the injury reports, this should be a different game.

Historically, it’s been profitable to back home favorites in the Conference Finals, as they are 77-65 against the spread (ATS), per Betlabs. However, in Game 1, this is an opportunity to fade the favorite. Since 2005, home favorites in the Conference Finals are just 11-16 ATS in Game 1.

The Clippers just played a tough series against the Jazz, but they’re tested and have already adapted to life without Leonard.

Although the Suns won both games Paul missed this season, their opponents were the Cavaliers and the Spurs in the last game of the season, neither of which is nearly the caliber of opponents as the Clippers.

I expect the spread to potentially drop to Suns -3 without Paul. Before the report that Paul would be out, the spread went from -4.5 to -4 at most books.

Considering the injuries to both the Lakers and the Nuggets, this is the toughest test the Suns will face in the playoffs.

Pick: Clippers +4.5 or better