Suns-Clippers Preview

The Associated Press

The Phoenix Suns' surge has been mostly due to a home-heavy schedule, and it's already victimized the Los Angeles Clippers.

A change in venue has historically not made a difference in this series.

The Suns look to for an improved defensive effort as they try to continue their dominance of the Clippers on Thursday night when these Pacific Division rivals meet for the second time in two weeks.

Phoenix (20-22) has won eight of 11, averaging 103.0 points. That's an increase of almost 10 points per game as the Suns attempt to turn around a season that appeared to be slipping away with a four-game slide prior to this stretch.

Their recent surge, however, has been aided by the schedule. They've played 10 of the last 11 at home, losing the only road contest in that stretch to drop to 7-12 away from home this season.

The Suns wouldn't appear to be too concerned with matching their season-high five-game road losing streak since they face the Clippers (24-17) again. They beat Los Angeles 81-78 on March 2, rallying from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit to improve to 12-1 in the past 13 meetings.

Phoenix has won five of six at Staples Center, scoring 116.3 points per game.

Still, coach Alvin Gentry wasn't happy after the Suns needed to erase a 13-point deficit to beat Utah 120-111 on Wednesday, two days after falling 127-124 to Minnesota.

"We had three guys with 20 or more and all the starters in double figures and that's great and fine," Gentry said of Phoenix's scoring distribution. "But we are just going to have to zero in and get a little better defensively. The last two games have been a little alarming."

Improved defensive play could help the Suns withstand this stretch of three games in three days, which started against the Jazz and ends Friday when they host Detroit.

Another strong performance from Jared Dudley would surely help. The swingman had 21 points against the Jazz, and is averaging 19.9 while hitting 54.2 percent of his shots from the floor - 14 for 32 from beyond the arc - over the last seven games. That includes 22 points versus the Clippers earlier this month, more than doubling his career average against them from his previous 11 meetings.

Steve Nash had six points, six assists and seven turnovers in that matchup. He's been much better over the past 11 road meetings with Los Angeles, averaging 17.2 points and 12.8 assists.

Los Angeles is trying to win back-to-back games for the first time since Feb. 15-16, going 5-8 in 13 games since.

The Clippers, though, are hoping they can build on Wednesday's 96-82 win over Atlanta, as reserves Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe scored 25 and 14 points, respectively.

"It was a must-win," said Williams, who has totaled 46 points in two games. "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves for this game because we needed it really bad. So we came out and did what we had to do against a good team."

While Williams is averaging 17.2 points over the past nine games, the Clippers will likely need increased producion from stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

Paul had 13 points and nine assists against the Hawks, while Griffin's 12 points were his fewest in 30 games. The duo was also kept in check by the Suns earlier this month, as Paul scored 16 points with five assists while Griffin added 17 points and seven boards.

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