A contentious playoff atmosphere is expected when the Phoenix Suns host the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, if the two previous games between the Western Conference rivals this season are any indication.
The Clippers (43-20) are a game behind the second-place Suns (43-18) as both teams are in pursuit of the Utah Jazz (44-17) atop the Western Conference standings.
Los Angeles has won the first two games between the teams, and the games have included flagrant fouls, technical fouls, ejections and plenty of trash talk.
In the first game, won by the Clippers 112-107 in Phoenix on Jan. 3, technical fouls were assessed to Los Angeles’ Paul George and Phoenix’s Devin Booker after Cameron Payne committed a hard foul when George tried to drive to the basket. George had to be separated from Payne by teammates and officials, and Booker intervened.
When the Clippers won at home 113-103 on April 8, All-Star Booker had a technical foul and a flagrant foul on a Kawhi Leonard drive to the basket.
Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley was ejected in the fourth quarter after a hard foul while trying to stop Chris Paul from generating a fast break.
L.A.’s Marcus Morris Sr. was also ejected late in the game after picking up his second technical foul in under three minutes.
“There are going to be games like this where it is going to be chippy,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said. “They are fighting for something, we are fighting for something, so it is going to happen and I am OK with it.”
George led the Clippers in scoring in both games against the Suns with 39 points in the first game and 33 in the second. He shot a combined 27-of-43 from the field, including 14-of-19 from 3-point range, in those games.
Phoenix is coming off an East Coast road trip with a 3-2 record, culminating a 118-110 win over the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden on Monday, snapping the Knicks’ nine-game winning streak.
Paul scored seven points in the final 1:23 of the game, including a fadeaway 3-pointer in the waning seconds to fend off the Knicks.
“We wanted this one, we wanted this one bad,” said Booker, who scored 33 points. “Obviously we knew about the streak that they had going on and we knew that this was going to be a dogfight.”
The Clippers lost Monday on the road against the New Orleans Pelicans 120-103 as George scored only nine points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field. He played through ankle soreness.
“(The ankle) is sore right now, but (the next game) is two days away. I should be good,” George said.
New signee DeMarcus Cousins had 16 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots for the Clippers, who were without Leonard (foot) for a fourth straight game. His status is questionable against the Suns.
Beverley (fractured hand) and Serge Ibaka (lower back tightness) remain out with their long-term injuries for Los Angeles.
For the Suns, Dario Saric and Jae Crowder are day-to-day with ankle injuries and Abdel Nader is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
–Field Level Media