Clippers-Suns 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.