Clippers (20-12) vs. Phoenix Suns (15-20) at US Airways Center, 7:30 p.m. PT
Five storylines to track:
1. The list: When the Clippers go on the road, Chris Paul has asked longtime Clippers announcer Ralph Lawler to inform him when the team goes up against an opponent with a long winning streak against the Clippers, or if they are playing in a building the team has had a long losing streak in. Well, Lawler will likely go up to Paul during shootaround Friday and let him know the Clippers haven’t won in Phoenix since 2007 and have only beaten the Suns twice since then (both at Staples Center). The Clippers have already snapped similar streaks in Orlando, Denver and Utah this season. They came into Sacramento having lost 23 of 26 in the state’s capital before pulling out a win Thursday night.
2. Bench mob: No group of players were more criticized after the Clippers’ loss to Minnesota on Tuesday than the Clippers’ reserves who were outscored 72-11 by the Timberwolves’ bench. The Clippers’ second unit responded Thursday in Sacramento by outscoring the Kings’ bench 41-27. The biggest surprise was the 13 points scored by recently signed forward Bobby Simmons, who hadn’t scored in an NBA game since 2009. Simmons was signed to a 10-day contract Monday and will likely stick with the team for the rest of the season if he can continue to provide a spark off the bench. The only player that has been able to score consistently with the second unit this season has been Mo Williams, who scored 18 points on Thursday and has accounted for over 50% of the bench scoring this season.
3. Back-to-back: The Clippers will be playing 11 back-to-back games including one back-to-back-to-back set in the second half the season beginning with Friday’s game against the Suns. That might not be such a bad thing for the Clippers who are 6–2 in the second game of those back-to-backs this season, which is the fourth best record in the NBA, behind the Bulls (10–2), Hawks (7–2, and Thunder (10–3). The Suns, who played Thursday night as well, are 5-5 on the second night of back-to-back games and are also 0–4 this season in games against teams that currently lead their division, having lost to the 76ers, Thunder, Spurs, and Bulls. The Clippers currently lead the Pacific division over the Lakers by one game.
4. Butler’s back: After shooting 31.5% from the field (12-of-38) in his last four games going into Thursday, Caron Butler scored 13 points on 5-of-11 from the field against Sacramento. Butler had only made 1-of-14 from beyond the arc but hit a three-pointer in Thursday’s win. The Clippers will need Butler to play a bigger role in the offense during this six-game road trip to take some of the load off of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who have had to carry this team offensively since Chauncey Billups was lost for the season last month. The Clippers are now 6-5 without Billups after starting the season 15-7 with him in the starting lineup.
5. Lob City: Paul has 24 alley-oop assists this season, which ranks him second in the league to John Wall (26). To put that number in perspective, Paul had half as many alley-oop assists (12) all of last season with the New Orleans Hornets. Interestingly enough, DeAndre Jordan (15) has been the recipient of more of those lob dunks than Blake Griffin (9) so far this season. On the season, Griffin leads the league with 99 dunks while Jordan is fifth with 77. They are the only teammates in the top ten on the list.