LOS ANGELES -- When Jeff Hornacek was asked what he liked best about his Phoenix Suns team, he paused for a moment, smiled and said, “We play hard.”
As he thought back to the games the Suns have played this season, he could only pinpoint a quarter here and there in which the Suns didn’t play hard. It might seem cliché, but sometimes, just showing up and playing hard is enough to win in the NBA.
It certainly was on Monday night.
Doc Rivers would probably lose count if he thought back to the number of times his Los Angeles Clippers haven’t played hard, and Monday night’s 107-88 blowout loss to the Suns was the latest example.
The Suns (19-11) are certainly not a pushover, but there was no excuse for the Clippers to trail by 29 points in the second half and effectively be run out of the gym. In their last game of 2013, the Clippers showed everyone how much room they have yet to grow if they want to be taken as a serious championship contender in 2014.
How it happened: The game tipped off and it was basically downhill from there. The Suns took an 11-1 lead to start the game, were up by 21 points by the second quarter and nearly pushed it to 30 in the third quarter. The Suns never let up, while the Clippers never really put up much of a fight.
What it means: The Clippers have a lot of room for improvement heading into the new year. It’s one thing to drop back-to-back close games on the road to the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers, but it’s another to come home and squeak by the Utah Jazz before getting blown out by Phoenix. Not only do the Clippers need to establish some consistency, they have to play with more urgency and energy than they have been.
Hits: Hard to find many hits on a night when few players could hit a shot, but Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford had 15 points each, Chris Paul had 11 points and seven assists, while DeAndre Jordan had 19 rebounds and two points. None of it really mattered in the end.
Misses: There are too many to enumerate, but the Clippers' bench will need to score more than 11 points in three quarters moving forward. Jordan might be the defensive captain but he has to add more than two points as a starting center, and Jared Dudley’s shooting slump (nine points) can’t end soon enough for the Clippers.
Stat of the game: The Clippers shot just 36.5 percent from the field (31-for-85) and 35 percent (7-for-20) from beyond the 3-point arc.
Up next: The Clippers start 2014 with a New Year’s Day home game against the Charlotte Bobcats. It’s the first matchup of the season between the Clippers and the Bobcats. Charlotte is 14-18 and currently the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. As bad as the East has been this season, the Clippers are just 6-6 against teams from the East.