News » Suns-Clippers Preview 2009-10-28

Suns-Clippers Preview 2009-10-28

Suns-Clippers Preview 2009-10-28After missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, the Phoenix Suns are prepared to run their way back to the postseason in 2009-10.

The determined Suns look to open the season Wednesday night with a fifth straight victory over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers, who are trying to get by without injured No. 1 overall draft pick Blake Griffin.

Poised to bounce back after a first-round playoff exit the previous season, Phoenix took a step back in 2008-09. New coach Terry Porter, who tried to transform the fast-paced Suns into more of a halfcourt, defensive-minded team, was fired with the Suns 28-23 and averaging 104.4 points per game at the All-Star break.

Assistant coach Alvin Gentry took over and sped up the tempo as Phoenix went 18-13 while averaging 117.4 down the stretch. The Suns, though, were already in a hole and then hit hard by a season-ending eye injury to star forward Amare Stoudemire (21.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg) in February. Despite finishing 46-36, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

"We were torn between two styles," said veteran guard Steve Nash, who averaged 15.7 points and 9.7 assists - his lowest for both in four seasons. "That made it difficult for us to excel at either one."

With Shaquille O'Neal now in Cleveland and Gentry expecting his team to run from the start, the 35-year-old Nash and Stoudemire are hoping to lead Phoenix back to the playoffs.

"The Nash and Stoudemire era is not over yet," Stoudemire said. "We're still here. We're still improving, we're still getting better as a unit and we're bringing the Phoenix Suns team with us."

While the franchise believes the aging Nash can continue to run the offense at an elite level, Stoudemire could be in for a big season before he's expected to opt out of the final year of his contract to seek a maximum deal. The Suns might not be willing to pay, and could decide to trade him during the season if the team is struggling.

"It's mainly about improving and winning," said Stoudemire, who's averaging 28.8 points and 9.4 boards in his last eight games against Los Angeles. "If we win and if we improve, then nothing should change."

Veterans Jason Richardson (16.8 ppg) and Grant Hill (12.0, 4.9 rpg) - who played all 82 games last season - could provide solid support for Stoudemire and Nash.

A favorably scheduled first week could also help the Suns start strong. After Los Angeles, Phoenix hosts Golden State and Minnesota - teams with a combined 53 wins last season.

The Suns averaged 124.3 points in sweeping the four-game set from the Clippers last season. Phoenix scored 140 and 142 points, respectively, in its last two games versus Los Angeles.

Nash is averaging 16.9 points and 12.8 assists in his last eight road games against the Clippers, who went 19-63 last season and opened with a 99-92 loss to the defending NBA champion Lakers on Tuesday.

Eric Gordon scored 21 points and Chris Kaman added 18 with 16 boards for Los Angeles, which will be without Griffin for up to six weeks due to a stress fracture suffered in the team's final preseason game.

"He could play on it, but it won't get better," said Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy of Griffin, who averaged 22.7 points with an NCAA-best 14.4 rebounds last season for Oklahoma. "Once that became apparent, there was no question: Let's shut it down. Him playing at a lesser level isn't going to do us much good."

Even without Griffin, the Clippers hung with the Lakers despite trailing by 10 points after one quarter and committing 20 turnovers.

"We've got a good, deep team and we'll win a bunch of ballgames while Blake is out," said guard Baron Davis, who averaged 14.9 points during a disappointing first season with Clippers and was held to two on 1-of-10 shooting Tuesday.

Gordon averaged 16.1 points as a rookie and 20.5 against Phoenix last season.

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Added: October 28, 2009


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