Leading Western Conference team, Clippers, host Suns

LOS ANGELES — The best team in the Western Conference said from the outset that it would take a good two months to figure out the squad’s true potential.

Harder to predict would have been its lofty perch atop the standings as that true potential arrived.

When the Los Angeles Clippers host the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, they will do so as the best team in the west.

Not a year removed from the departure of Blake Griffin, the face of the franchise, the Clippers are winning with tenacious defense, a never-quit mentality and a roster full of hard workers over superstars to post a 13-6 record.

Except that forward Tobias Harris has continued to garner some of that superstar attention. The reigning Western Conference Player of the Week averaged 24.8 points last week as the Clippers went 3-1.

When the Clippers stormed back from a double-digit deficit at Portland on Sunday to move into the conference’s top spot, Harris tied a career high with 34 points.

With scoring guard Lou Williams playing through illness last week and then struggling to find his shot as his health improved, Harris seamlessly filled the scoring void. Harris’ willingness to defer to Williams when he is hot, and his ability to take big shots when he is not, is the kind of selfless mentality that has defined the Clippers.

“Every single game we’re getting to know each other and you can see the chemistry continue to flow,” said Harris, who was acquired by the Clippers last February in the Griffin trade to the Detroit Pistons. “This is a great team to be a part of. I was telling my father yesterday, I got player of the week and it felt good to get a text of congratulations from pretty much every guy on the team.”

It has been an all-around effort for the Clippers, who have established the identity of coach Doc Rivers by posting a 107.6 defensive rating — 12th best in the league. That is complimented by a scoring average of 116.8 points per game — fourth best in the NBA.

It is the kind of all-around effort the Suns hope to achieve one day, but so far, their rebuilding season has fallen well below expectations. The Suns enter Wednesday’s game with a 4-16 record as they sit last in the conference.

Former Clipper Jamal Crawford is trying to provide veteran leadership and guidance, and while it has been an uphill climb, the fearless guard does see some progress.

“It takes a certain level of maturity to get hit and get knocked down and get back up,” Crawford said according to NBA.com, before scoring 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the Suns’ 109-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday. “Some people can lay there and say it’s over. … We’re such a different team than we were even two weeks ago. We’re better. We may not see it in the results, but we’re better.”

The Suns gave the Pacers all they could handle at home Tuesday, tying the score 104-104 on a 3-pointer by Devin Booker with 45 seconds to play, before Indiana finished off the victory. T.J. Warren scored 25 points in the defeat.

Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton continues to emerge, adding 18 points Tuesday. Ayton became the fourth player since 1992 with at least 300 points and 200 rebounds in his first 20 games, joining Griffin, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal.

The Clippers are expected to be without Luc Mbah a Moute (sore left knee) and Jerome Robinson (strained right foot).