The Los Angeles Clippers conceivably could get creative and rest several of its regulars for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the host Phoenix Suns.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, however, quickly dismissed the notion and will be avoiding any gamesmanship on Sunday. Unlike Phoenix (45-36), the Clippers (43-38) plan to play all of its starters in the finale.
If the Clippers win on Sunday, it’ll finish as the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference and face fourth-seeded Phoenix in a first-round matchup. If Los Angeles loses, it also could secure the fifth seed, provided the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans also fall in their respective season finales.
A loss on Sunday could send the Clippers to the sixth seed and a first-round series against the Sacramento Kings. Some observers have said that might be a more favourable matchup for the Clippers, but Lue is blocking out any outside noise.
There is also a scenario in which Los Angeles could fall to the No. 7 seed and the play-in tournament, but Lue would prefer to focus on beating the Suns on Sunday.
“I feel good,” Lue said. “I just wanna get in. Doesn’t matter what seed. Just to have a chance to play after missing it last year. My main focus is doing whatever we need to do to get to the playoffs.”
The Clippers opened the front end of a back-to-back with an impressive 136-125 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday. Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points, Norman Powell added 23 and Russell Westbrook had 20.
Ivica Zubac recorded his 27th double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Clippers, who have won four of their past six games.
Leonard had an injury-plagued season but is trending in the right direction while averaging 30.7 points over the past three games. He said he’s been pleased with his season overall.
“It was good,” Leonard said. “Up and down, had some setback with the knee, and going down with the ankle sprain, but kind of finished it out pretty strong. Hopefully, we can have some carry-over, get a win (Sunday) and compete in the playoffs.”
Los Angeles is looking to even the season series against Phoenix after losing two of the first three meetings.
The Suns are locked into the No. 4 seed in the West and are expected to rest starters Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton on Sunday.
All four sat out on Friday as Phoenix saw its seven-game winning streak come to a halt with a 121-107 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Torrey Craig led the Suns with 18 points, Jock Landale added 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Josh Okogie scored 16 points.
Phoenix coach Monty Williams indicated that resting four of his starters is probably the best option on Sunday.
“We’ll do what’s best for our guys,” Williams said. “Thankfully, we’re in a position where we’ll have time to play next week and get the conditioning level where it needs to be.”
The Suns have reason to be cautious following a pair of injuries in Friday’s contest. Bismack Biyombo injured his right knee, and Cameron Payne sustained a lower back injury.
“The Bizzy one was scary,” Craig said. “The Cam Payne one was scary. I’m just glad it wasn’t as serious. It looked scary for both of them, but I’m glad they were able to bounce back and at least they’re walking around.”
Phoenix is also monitoring the status of forward T.J. Warren, who has missed the past two games due to illness.
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