15 April, 2023
Phoenix’s Suns have been atop the NBA’s regular season rankings for the past few seasons, but they have yet to deliver a championship to the Valley of the Sun. The supporters still feel the sting of last year’s Game 7 loss, a rout at the hands of the Mavericks. Yet after a lackluster start to the season, they traded a bunch of draft selections and forward Mikal Bridges for Kevin Durant.
In his short time with the Suns, Durant has helped them to an undefeated 8-0 record. The Suns know their window of opportunity to win a championship is rapidly closing and that Durant is the team’s brightest star. KD is still producing, but at age 34, he’s not getting any younger. With his history of injuries, I wouldn’t put any money on him playing professionally for too much longer. Durant’s jump shot remains as good as ever, even at his advanced age. His health and shooting will be crucial for the Suns’ success, as he has shot an electrifying 53.7% from deep while averaging 26.0 PPG in his brief time in Phoenix.
Devin Booker, who plays a different character, will need some time to adjust. Prior to Durant’s arrival, Booker was without question the best player in Phoenix. Booker was the leading scorer, even if Chris Paul was still the team’s captain. It’s never easy to move from being the main attraction to being the supporting actor, and that’s exactly what has happened to him. Booker, though, would not let his pride to get in the way of the team’s pursuit of a title. His average of 27.8 points per game may drop, but he still has to score more than anybody else.
Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, and Josh Okogie round out the starting 5. The Suns’ starting five is very strong, but their bench is weak. Quickly picking up steam is nothing new for Terrence Ross. Nonetheless, the Suns may be easily defeated if Durant and/or Booker were to sit on the bench together.
It’s tough to find many additional flaws about Phoenix, to be honest. They’re great at preventing turnovers and making threes, and their defensive play is good as well. The Suns are deserving favorites to win the Western Conference after going undefeated with their new shiny toy in Durant.
I have no idea what to make of the Clippers. George and Leonard have proven time and time again that they can carry a team to greatness, but they have struggled to play together consistently. The two have only played 118 games together throughout their four seasons in Los Angeles. They’re 83–35 in perfect games when they all suit up, but keeping healthy has been a problem. Once the season begins, Los Angeles fans may expect a familiar tune: George will miss at least portion of the series due to a sprained right knee.
Kawhi Leonard is one of just three players in NBA history to win the Most Valuable Player award with two different clubs. As we witnessed during Toronto’s championship run, his outstanding defense and ability to make big shots can be a game-changer. Leonard usually steals the show whenever he dons the costume. The Clippers’ championship hopes may have been derailed by injuries. Leonard’s 23.8 PPG and 41.6% from deep will give them a shot to win, though, so long as he stays healthy.
The Clippers’ acquisition of former MVP Russell Westbrook was a solid move. Westbrook, despite being one of the most despised players in the NBA, often posts impressive stats. Many people accuse Westbrook of trying to inflate his stats, but he earns every one of his assists and boards. He is a valuable third option, and probably the second choice for this series, since he will not fold under pressure if given the ball in a crucial circumstance. Although he is not putting up the same kind of numbers as he did in 2017 (31.6 PPG and 42 triple-doubles), he is still a productive scorer for the Clippers, shooting a career-best 35.6% from deep.
Around the trade deadline, the Clippers improved their roster by adding Eric Gordon, Mason Plumlee, Bones Hyland, and, of course, Westbrook. The loss of sharpshooter Luke Kennard was painful, but the Clippers now have one of the league’s deepest rosters.
There aren’t any major weaknesses in LA, but the Clippers also don’t have any strengths. They are in the lower half of the top 10 in every major statistical category. A healthier, better Clippers squad is a formidable opponent, despite the team’s 17th-ranked offense and 18th-ranked defense. The Clippers are a top team when they are at their best. Yet if their willpower is truly tested, they may suffer a catastrophic breakdown.
This show promises to be fun. Due to the strength of the Western Conference, first-round games feature two teams at or near the top of their respective leagues. If these two teams were in the Western Conference, no one would have been surprised, but one of them will lose before the playoffs even begin. The Suns have stars, but they’re shallow. The Clippers’ bench strength will prove useful. Will they be able to compete, though, with the Suns’ formidable starting lineup?
Game 3 of this series will decide the winner. The Suns should be able to keep their home court edge and help KD to a perfect record with the team. The Clippers, though, will have a fighting shot if the series moves to Los Angeles. The Suns’ road record is merely 17-24 this season. The Clippers have a good shot at winning the series if they can avoid falling down 3-0.
Durant, Booker, and Paul have developed a deadly offensive chemistry on the perimeter. Leonard will do what he can to put Durant behind bars, but Booker can handle things just fine in the meantime. The Suns are an attacking juggernaut that is impossible to stop because to Paul’s court vision in the backcourt and the scoring prowess of Booker and Durant. The Clippers’ offense and defense are both average at best. The Suns will take advantage of the situation because of the uncertainty surrounding Paul George. The Clippers will push the Suns to the limit, but Kevin Durant and the rest of the Suns will win in seven games.
Pick: The Suns will win in Phoenix in 7 games.
I anticipate a Suns victory over the Clippers, but these odds are too low for me to back them. The Suns are massive favorites at -500, while the Clippers are +375 to move on to the next round. I know George is still out, but the Clippers can and will win games against the Suns even without him. These odds would be closer to -200/+160 if George were healthy, and I think the Clippers’ bench can handle the workload just well in his absence.
The initial pick is +175 on the Clippers +1.5 games. This series being close is worth betting at +175 even if the Suns win. Furthermore, the -110 odds on the Over 5.5 Games are highly enticing. It’s quite improbable that the Clippers will sweep the Suns in 5 games or fewer, but they’re talented enough to prevent a 4-1 or 4-0 series loss. There is some duplication, but betting for the Clippers to keep the series tight is one of my favorite wagers all season.
Bet -110 that Ivan Zubac will grab the most boards in the series finale. Zubac and Ayton, both at -110, are the only horses in this event. The fight for the paint should belong to Zubac, who has grabbed 8 or more boards in each of his previous five games against the Suns. There won’t be a rout because Zubac will be laser-focused on grabbing boards, while Ayton will be sidetracked by the pressure of attempting to score in front of all those people.
Over 5.5 Games: Clippers vs. Suns -110
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