Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Line: Phoenix -7.5
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, Arizona
When: Sunday, 4/16 at 8:00 p.m. ET
Sunday night’s Western Conference series opener between the No. 4 Suns and the No. 5 Clippers might just be a first-round matchup, but there is NBA Finals experience on both rosters.
Phoenix made a splash at the trade deadline when it acquired Kevin Durant from Brooklyn, and it went 8-0 with the superstar on the court during the regular season. Los Angeles has one of the league’s best two-way players in Kawhi Leonard, who has led the Spurs (2014) and Raptors (2019) to NBA titles. He joined LeBron James as the only players in league history with an NBA Finals MVP for two different teams.
Leonard is shorthanded in this series though, as Paul George (knee) has already been ruled out for the beginning of the playoffs. The 32-year-old resumed shooting without a brace but is still working on getting back to full speed, hoping to return for the semifinals if the Clippers advance.
Oddsmakers do not fancy their chances of advancing without George on the court, with the Suns priced as heavy -500 favorites to win the series at DraftKings. They opened as 7-point favorites for the series opener, with that number moving to -7.5 as of late this morning. Tonight’s total opened at 229 points before dropping to 225.5.
These teams have gone ‘under’ the total in six of their last eight head-to-head meetings. However, the Clippers have gone ‘over’ in eight of their last nine games, while Phoenix has cashed the ‘over’ in four of its last five games.
The Suns are currently favored to advance to the NBA Finals from the Western Conference, led by a big four of Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton. Booker is averaging a team-high 27.8 points per game, while Durant is scoring 26.0 and Ayton is posting a double-double (18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds).
Durant missed the final two games of the regular season due to ankle injury management, but he returned to practice on Wednesday. He had 27 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks in 35 minutes in his only appearance against the Clippers this season.
Injuries continue to be the storyline for the Clippers, who were without Leonard for the entire 2022 campaign following an ACL tear. George was limited to 31 games last year and has now been sidelined since March 21 due to his sprained knee. Los Angeles needs Russell Westbrook to step up with George out of the lineup—he is shooting a career-high 35.6% from 3-point range this season.
Norman Powell is the team’s third-leading scorer behind George and Leonard, averaging 17.0 points per game. He scored at least 23 points in the final three games of the regular season, including a 29-point showing at Phoenix in the finale last Sunday. The Suns and Clippers both averaged 113.6 points per game during the regular season.
Los Angeles has only covered the spread once in its last five games, and it is also 1-4 ATS in its last five games against Phoenix. The Suns are 6-3 ATS in their last nine games and are 6-1 straight up in their last seven home games. They are 2-4 ATS in their last six home games against the Clippers, though.
The pick: Los Angeles +7
If there is a time to back the Clippers in this series, I think Game 1 is the most profitable situation. Leonard is going to be heavily taxed throughout the series due to his responsibilities on both ends of the court with George sidelined. He is going to be handling a large portion of the defensive duties regarding Durant, while also needing to carry the load on offense. I would much rather back him as a large underdog when he is rested and (presumably) healthy, especially when Durant missed the last two games due to an ankle injury. Phoenix should have too much firepower as this series progresses, but I like Los Angeles’ chances of keeping the opener closer than the betting market expects on Sunday night.