The All-Star break will be a welcome sight for both the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns following the teams’ matchup Thursday in downtown Phoenix.
Attention-getting stretch drives are expected for both teams, who have not quite met internal expectations, although the Suns are much improved after a 1-9 stretch into the middle of January.
Phoenix’s next step is to get the All-Star break behind them in order to see new acquisition Kevin Durant make his team debut after he recovers from a right knee injury. The Clippers, meanwhile, are set to turn both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George loose for the remainder of the season.
Both teams also have been integrating new players into the mix, with the Suns seeing TJ Warren (five points in seven minutes) make his return to the team in Tuesday’s 120-109 home victory over the Sacramento Kings after he was acquired in a trade last week.
Durant was on the bench in street clothes and received a rousing ovation when he was introduced in the third quarter.
Durant had to like what he saw as Devin Booker scored 32 points in his third game back from a groin strain. Deandre Ayton had 29 points and Chris Paul added a season-best 19 assists. The Suns won for the fifth time in their last six games and are 11-3 since that 10-game slumber last month.
“It’s pretty cool to have a guy on your team that pretty much every guy on the team looks up to,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said about Durant. “We basically have two of them with Chris and K.D. I think it creates something and I can’t even explain it.
“It’s just pretty cool to watch when you have high-character, high-level basketball players in your gym and they want to get better every day and they want to see guys around them to get better.”
Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue wanted to take it easy on Leonard and George heading into the break, but with consecutive defeats heading into Tuesday’s matchup with the Golden State Warriors, he had to alter the plan. His adjustment worked wonders.
Leonard scored 33 points in 34 minutes and George added 20 with eight assists in 32 minutes as the Clippers rolled past the Warriors 134-124 thanks to a 44-point third quarter.
Los Angeles also got its first look at its three trade-deadline acquisitions as Mason Plumlee scored eight points with five rebounds in 17 minutes, Eric Gordon had seven points and three assists in 22 minutes and Bones Hyland had six points in 16 minutes.
With 22 regular-season games remaining, Lue will have to make a quick assessment on how to work his newest players into the mix.
“I think you definitely have to compress (the assessment time),” Lue said. “You’re looking at five or six games just to see what we have and how we want to play and who fits with who. We don’t have a long time. … We have to make sure we can incorporate these guys, incorporate different lineups in different situations but also make sure we’re winning games. That’s the most important thing.”
–Field Level Media