Suns and Clippers

PHOENIX SUNS

Record:  54-28, 1st in Pacific Division, 2nd in Western Conference

Statistical Comparison:

Noteable:

1st in the league in scoring (108.4ppg)
28th in opponent scoring (102.8ppg)
4th in ppg differential (+5.5)
1st in field goal %
1st in three-point %
1st in assists
4th in turnovers

Others:

17th in opponent field goal %
10th in rebounding
22nd in steals
12th in blocks
6th (tie) in opponent turnovers

Additions:  
Marcus Banks, Eric Piatkowski, Jumaine Jones, Sean Marks

Subtractions:  
Eddie House, Tim Thomas, Brian Grant, Dijon Thompson

Key Players

PG:  Steve Nash, Marcus Banks
SG:  Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa, Eric Piatkowski
SF:   Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw, James Jones
PF:   Kurt Thomas, Jumaine Jones
C:   Amare Stoudemire, Pat Burke, Sean Marks

Comments:  I have to confess right off the bat that I've been wrong about Phoenix for years.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  In the Kidd/Starbury/Hardaway years I thought they'd be decent.  When they first went run and gun I thought they wouldn't last a season.  When Amare went down at the beginning of last season I thought they were toast.  Mea culpa.  These guys are so good offensively it hurts.  First in points, fourth in differential, first in three-point percentage, first in assists, fourth in taking care of the ball...show me the weak spot.  And you know what?  As their point differential, opposing field goal percentage, blocks, and opponent turnovers indicate, they're not all that bad at defense either.  You can completely throw out the low ranking in points allowed.  Obviously that's how they want to play.  You can also throw out the 10th-place rebounding finish though.  To avoid statistical eye-glazing I didn't break down rebounding very much.  That number is simply total rebounds, which Phoenix gets a lot of because their style induces more shots from both teams.  They're actually really sad in rebounding differential.  Nevertheless, the Suns have proven that they're no gimmick team.  Their gains and losses in personnel pale in comparison to their hopes for the returning Amare Stoudemire.  Folks are saying he looks good, but to my eyes, based on what little I saw of him in summer league, he's a long way from the phenom of old.  Perhaps they don't need him to be though.  In reality their season lies on the shoulders of Steve Nash alone.  He's the guy who makes everybody else on this team better than they are anywhere else.  That they also have Shawn Marion seems almost unfair.  There's no logical reason to assume the Suns won't make a run at the Finals.  Still, between Amare's ongoing recovery, the chances of key players wearing down with the frenetic style, and the fact that gruelling seven-game playoff series tend to expose the gaps in your system, I still don't like them to get out of the West. But then, as I said, I'm always wrong about them.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Record:  47-35, 2nd in Pacific Division, 5th in Western Conference

Statistical Comparisons:

Noteable:

4th in opponent field goal %
2nd in rebounding
1st in blocks
30th in opponent turnovers

Others:

16th (tie) in the league in scoring (97.2ppg)
11th (tie) in opponent scoring (95.6ppg)
11th in ppg differential (+1.6ppg)
6th in field goal %
21st in three-point %
14th in assists
24th in steals
18th in turnovers

Additions:  
Tim Thomas, Aaron Williams, Paul Davis (R)  

Subtractions:  
Vladimir Radmanovic, Walter McCarty, Vin Baker, Boniface N'Dong

Key Players

PG:  Sam Cassell, Shaun Livingston
SG:  Cuttino Mobley, Quinton Ross, Daniel Ewing, Guillermo Diaz
SF:  Corey Maggette, James Singleton, Yaroslav Korolev  
PF:  Elton Brand, Tim Thomas, Paul Davis
C:  Chris Kaman, Aaron Williams, Zeljko Rebraca

Comments: There's a lot to like about the Clippers.  All of their guys are chronically underrated.  Most are well-rounded.  Elton Brand is a demi-god at least and quite capable of spearheading a quality team.  They're good offensively, good defensively, great on the boards.  They play smart but can also shovel up a wheelbarrow or two of athleticism and flair.  Shaun Livingston is beginning to grow into his own, perhaps allowing interesting and multi-faceted combinations at the small positions.  Outside of the lovely name of Boniface N'Dong, they didn't lose anything of significance.  The only thing you really don't like is their weak deep shooting, as teams packing it in have a tendency to stunt both Brand and the slashers on offense.  Also you can never enter a season without questioning which Sam Cassell will show up.  Whichever it is, you know he won't be playing defense, which remains a problem with this backcourt no matter which combinations are used.  Corey Maggette's health and motivation have also been inconsistent.  Apparently they couldn't find a trading partner but I think they're better with him in the long run.  If there's a breakout/darkhorse team in the West, it's got to be the Clippers.  If the ball bounces right and Maggette stays healthy, it wouldn't surprise me to see a Conference Finals trip in the cards.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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