This trip to Los Angeles is a two-game journey for the Suns, who dutifully reported that their sole focus is currently on tonight’s meeting with the 10-23 Clippers, who they have already beaten three times this season and twice within the last three weeks.
But it is Thursday’s game against the Lakers — who have already beaten the Suns twice this season and are breathing down their necks in the Pacific Division — that draws the eye and the national television camera.
The game lost a little of its luster Monday with the news that 20-year-old Lakers center Andrew Bynum will miss at least eight weeks after suffering a dislocated kneecap and a bone bruise on Sunday.
Bynum had 28 points and 12 rebounds in a Christmas Day win over Phoenix.
When asked after the game if Bynum was up-and-coming, Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said, “I don’t think he’s up-and-coming; he’s there.”
Sunday’s 100-99 win over Memphis was the Lakers’ sixth straight (25-11) — their longest winning streak in four years. The Lakers were rolling at this time last year (26-13) too, before injuries to Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown and Luke Walton hit the team hard.
“I’m not surprised with the way they’ve played this year because of Bynum’s development,” Suns guard Steve Nash said. “There aren’t many guys as big and long as he is with great hands and a good touch. When you add a guy like that to the rotation, the impact is huge. He clogs up the middle on defense and is an attractive option on offense.”
But after hearing of Bynum’s prognosis, the Suns will focus on Odom, Kobe Bryant and the rest of the Lakers.
“They will miss him because he’s been a good player for them, but they still have a lot of weapons,” D’Antoni said.
“It doesn’t change how we approach anything. We need to beat them, that’s it.”
But first, the Suns want to complete a season sweep over the Clippers, who have lost 10 of 11 including four in a row at Staples Center — capped by Saturday’s 95-94 buzzer-beater to Dallas.
Phoenix has held the Clippers — who average a league-worst 92.6 points at home this year — to an average of 90 points in three games.
Suns at Clippers
When: 8:30 p.m. today
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
TV: KUTP (Channel 45)
Radio: KTAR (620 AM)
Records: Suns 26-11; Clippers 10-23
Series history: The Suns lead the overall series 112-63 and are looking to complete a four-game season sweep of the Clippers tonight. Amaré Stoudemire has dominated all three games, scoring 28, 29 and 30 points with a double-double in each game. Phoenix raced to a 113-94 win on Nov. 23 in Phoenix before sweeping back-to-back meetings on Dec. 27 and Dec. 28, winning 108-88 in Los Angeles and 94-88 in Phoenix.
Scouting report: Suns – Other than Grant Hill, who will be out until at least the New Jersey game next Sunday, the Suns are healthy. Phoenix is 7-2 in its past nine games, but had to rally from double-digit deficits to win three times. Boris Diaw’s 21 points in Saturday’s win over Milwaukee was his biggest offensive output since getting 21 against Portland last Jan. 17. Phoenix has scored at least 113 points in its past four wins, failing only in a 108-86 loss in Utah in which Hill, Shawn Marion and Steve Nash sat out.
Clippers – The Clippers play their sixth straight home tonight but they are 1-4 with consecutive losses to New Orleans, San Antonio, Orlando and Dallas and are 1-10 in their past 11 games – including two losses to the Suns. Saturday’s 95-94 loss to the Mavericks was the toughest – the Clippers blew a 90-81 lead, took a shot too early in the final seconds and were burned by a Jerry Stackhouse 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Clippers shot 52 percent from the field against Dallas – the first time in 33 games that they made more shots than they missed in a game.