The Phoenix Suns have been installed as favorites to beat the Los Angeles Clippers when they meet in the 2021 Western Conference finals beginning on Sunday, However, there’s a huge and unusual dark cloud hovering in the desert as we get set for Sunday’s Game 1 matchup.
Will COVID-19 protocols keep future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul off the floor for Game 1 or any ensuing contest? If it does, do the rising Suns stand a chance of getting past a loaded Clippers team that made franchise history on Friday night?
Update: Paul will miss Game 1 of the series.
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The NBA series odds in the BetUS online sportsbook are value-packed for one of these Pacific Division rivals, depending on Paul’s availability. Let’s look at each team in their respective totalities before getting to our series prediction.
The Suns have looked absolutely fantastic in dispatching the defending champion Lakers in six games in the first round and sweeping the Denver Nuggets in the second round. Phoenix hits the conference finals riding a stupendous seven-game winning streak that includes seven straight ATS victories along the way.
In the middle of it all has been Paul, who overcame an early shoulder injury to guide Phoenix to the series win over LeBron James & Co. before Phoenix ran roughshod over Denver in round two.
In 10 playoff games, Paul is averaging 15.7 points and 8.7 assists while shooting 91.2% from the free-throw line, an insane 50.9% from the field, and blistering 44.4% from 3-point distance. Paul has gotten plenty of help from his blossoming teammates, starting with All-star shooting guard Devin Booker who is averaging a team-high 27.9 points per game on 48.7% shooting from the field and 37.7% from beyond the arc.
Four more Suns are all averaging double figures per game in the postseason, including center Deandre Ayton (15.2 PPG), small forward Mikal Bridges (12.0 PPG), veteran forward Jae Crowder (11.7 PPG), and reserve point guard Cameron Payne (10.2 PPG).
This postseason, the Suns are putting up 111.0 points per game on 48.2% shooting from the field and 38.45 from 3-point distance. Phoenix leads all playoff teams in the fewest points allowed (100.8) while limiting the opposition to 42.3% shooting from the field and 31.2% from 3-point distance.
Still, the Suns are potentially looking at being without CP 3 for Game 1 … at the least.
“For us, it’s unfortunate that it happened, that he had to enter protocols this week,” Suns general manager James Jones said on Wednesday. “But like always, we started to reflect on what we’ve done so far this year and how our team has performed when our guys have been out. We’ve been relatively healthy, so we’ve been in a good space.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have won and covered the spread in four straight games. Los Angeles got past Dallas in sveen games in the first round before upsetting the top-seeded Utah Jazz in six games in the second round. All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard leads LA in scoring at 30.4 points per game, though he’s missed the last two after suffering a knee injury against the Jazz in Game 4.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 19, 2021
Paul George is averaging 26.1 points per game on 45.1% shooting from the field and 36.1% from 3-point distance. However, it is veteran point guard Reggie Jackson that has come up huge by averaging 16.6 points per game on 50.3% shooting from the field and 43.5% from downtown. Veteran forward Marcus Morris is also playing well and hits the conference finals averaging 12.2 points per game on 39.7% shooting from behind the arc.
Overall, four players are averaging double digits in scoring this postseason, although veteran Nicolas Batum (9.8 PPG) and young shooting guard Terance Mann (7.2 PPG) have come up big in recent games. Mann went off for a career-high 39 points in Game 6 to help Los Angeles dispatch Utah.
This postseason, the Clippers are averaging 115.2 points per game on 49.4% shooting from the field and 40.1% from beyond the arc. Defensively, Los Angeles is allowing 108.5 points per game this postseason on 45.7% shooting from the field and 40.3% from 3-point distance.
The Clippers won the regular season series 2-1, winning 112-107 in Phoenix on Jan. 3 and 113-103 at home on April 8. The Suns got some revenge by winning 109-101 at home on April 28. The Over is 9-4 in the last 13 meetings between these two when they play in Phoenix with the Clippers going 14-5 ATS in the last 19 meetings overall.
I’m not going to lie. This series pick is absolutely gut-wrenching. On one hand, I love Phoenix and I believe the Suns are peaking and playing their best basketball. On the other hand, the Clippers are absolutely loaded and have picked up their level of play the more important the games.
With that said, I’m going to back the LA Clippers to scratch out the hard-fought series win, likely in six games. Phoenix is clearly not the same team without Paul while the Clippers have thrived without Leonard.
If Paul is forced to miss any time at all, I believe the odds of Phoenix winning will be seriously altered. The Clippers apparently need to get smacked around before they start playing “real” ball and if that’s the case, LA will soar after Phoenix punches them in the mouth. This series is going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish, but I’m going with LA to get it done over a Suns team that has been a cash cow over the entire postseason,