LOS ANGELES — It is not easy being a starter for either the Phoenix Suns or Los Angeles Clippers right now, and Wednesday’s game at Staples Center figures to showcase each team’s particular quirk.
The Suns (11-21) are getting minimal production from their starting five, but they still have managed a brief two-game winning streak thanks to an extremely effective bench. That minimal production was highlighted in a victory at Dallas on Monday when starters Tyler Ulis, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss and Tyson Chandler all were on the bench during the decisive final quarter.
For the Clippers (11-18), issues with their starters are primarily health-related. All-Star forward Blake Griffin figures to be out for at least another month with a sprained left knee. Fellow starting forward Danilo Gallinari has missed all but two games since Nov. 5 with two separate glute injuries. Point guard Patrick Beverley is already lost for the season after knee surgery.
“This has been a terrible season so far for just our health, I guess,” Clippers guard Austin Rivers told the Los Angeles Times after returning from a two-game absence because of a concussion. “It seems like one guy comes in and two guys go out. One guy comes in and two guys out. Two guys come back and one guy goes out. We’ve got to keep our heads up, man.”
In addition to missing starters, key bench players Lou Williams (right foot sprain) and Wesley Johnson (left foot soreness) missed Monday’s defeat at San Antonio, the Clippers’ third consecutive road loss. Williams, second on the team at 19.9 points per game, is at least listed as probable for Wednesday.
The Suns also have their own injury issues. Guards Devin Booker (groin) and Davon Reed (knee) are expected to return next month. Center Alan Williams won’t be back until at least March with his own knee injury. And guard Brandon Knight (knee) is lost for the season.
Phoenix can enter Wednesday’s matchup of Western Conference foes knowing it has an impressive amount of depth. In a victory Saturday at Minnesota, reserves scored 69 of the team’s 108 points. At Dallas on Monday, it was 55 of 97 points and 20 of 29 fourth-quarter points.
“They’re doing a phenomenal job,” Suns forward T.J. Warren said of the bench players, according to the Arizona Republic. “They’re playing the right way, they’re playing free and they’re keeping us in games.”
The biggest spark off the Phoenix bench lately has come from guard Isaiah Canaan, who was playing in the D-League last week. Canaan scored 17 points in the victory over the Mavericks and had 15 points and seven assists over the weekend at Minnesota.
Suns interim coach Jay Triano, who took over when Earl Watson was fired three games into the season, appears to be finding an effective mix for his team, even if it is primarily with the reserves in recent games.
“It’s not that we’re even better from the first three games,” Suns center Alex Len said, according to the Arizona Republic. “We’re better than we were a couple of weeks ago. (Triano) is doing a great job.”