LOS ANGELES - The Suns came to Staples Center Saturday night looking for their 10th win in a row, their fourth victory in five nights and a chance to spend their first night of the season in the Pacific Division lead.
They left not only with a 101-91 loss, but also the last thing they needed — more injuries. And with another busy four-game week ahead, an uncertain future.
Fighting all night to overcome fatigue and the much-improved Clippers, the Suns lost forward James Jones in the second quarter to a sprained right ankle. Jones landed on the foot of Clippers forward Elton Brand after coming down on a rebound attempt. It’s the first time Jones has sprained his right ankle and he said he hopes to be able to play Monday at home against the Hornets.
Initial X-rays on the ankle were negative but Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said a determination on how long Jones will be out won’t be made until the swelling subsides.
Then on the same end of the floor with less than four minutes to play, guard Leandro Barbosa — two days after missing eight games with a sprained left knee, reinjured the knee in an ugly, awkward incident with less than four minutes to play.
"I was watching it and he slipped on one leg, tried to catch himself with the other and the knee just buckled. It was horrible," Suns guard Raja Bell said. "You really feel for the kid to have two injuries like that back to back."
Before the game, Barbosa admitted he took the court with a lot of trepidation Friday night against the Knicks after missing eight games with a sprained knee.
But after playing 21 minutes Friday, Barbosa said he felt no stiffness and soreness Saturday and was "pretty happy about how it all went."
Suns trainer Aaron Nelson said the knee injury was the same mechanism as Barbosa’s first injury on Nov. 19 at San Antonio, when the knee flexed inward. Today, he will have an MRI exam and see Suns physician Dr. Tom Carter to determine the damage.
The Clippers, who played without the injured Corey Maggette (sprained left foot), got 76 points from their big three of Elton Brand (27 points and 13 rebounds), Cuttino Mobley (25) and Sam Cassell (24) in breaking a short-lived tie with the Suns for the division lead.
Brand scored 15 of his 27 points in the third quarter as the Clippers wiped out a five-point Phoenix halftime lead with a 30-19 quarter that put the game in their command.
Phoenix was led by Shawn Marion’s 20 points. Steve Nash had 16 points and 11 assists to help keep the Suns close, while Kurt Thomas added 13 points and 17 rebounds, most of it in the first half.
"I think we got really tired there in the third quarter, but the Clippers played very well, too," D’Antoni said. "We played a good first half, especially the second quarter, but then things got away from us."
The Suns were at their best in the second. Overcoming early foul trouble, Thomas had eight of his 11 first-half rebounds in the quarter and five on the offensive end, capping a 16-4 Suns run with a three-point play and a nifty assist pass to Bell. Phoenix led by as many as seven and took a 57-53 lead to the half.
DEJA VU WALTER
Now playing for the upstart Clippers, ex-Sun Walter McCarty said he sees a lot of similarities between his new team and the Phoenix team that surprised everyone last year.
"Like that Suns team, we have a great group of guys and everyone loves playing with each other," he said. "At this point in my career, that’s really important to me and I’m lucky to have found it in two places."
Like those Suns with Nash, Amaré Stoudemire and Marion, the Clippers are relying on a veteran point guard (Cassell), a speedy, athletic forward (Maggette) and a rising star inside (Brand) as their core. "And we don’t have any knuckleheads on the team, just a group of guys that want to win," McCarty said.
HOUSE SWEET HOME
So why is Eddie House averaging 10.8 points at home (shooting 52 percent from the field) and 4.8 on the road? Heck if he knows.
"Usually it’s the opposite; I play better on the road," House said. "It’s nothing I can put my finger on, but it’s going to change. It took me a little while to get in the groove at home, and we haven’t played a lot of road games yet.’’
House’s struggles continued Saturday — he missed eight of his 10 shots and finished with just eight points in 22 minutes.
Pat Burke wasn’t expected to play Saturday (back spasms), but with Jones injured and Boris Diaw in foul trouble, Burke was pressed into service for five minutes and hit his only two shots.