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Suns make unexpected starting lineup change against Clippers

© Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With only three games left in the regular season, the Phoenix Suns have made the first change all season to their traditional starting lineup.

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Phoenix (46-33) will be starting Royce O’Neale over Grayson Allen for tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers (51-28). This will be Allen’s first time coming off the bench in the 72 games he has played this season.

The change follows Phoenix’s embarrassing 105-92 loss to the Clippers last night, which saw them go down 35-4 in the first quarter and trail as much as by 37 multiple times in the first half.

Allen has dropped from the No. 1 to the No. 2 league leader in 3-point percentage after missing his last 14 3s, including an 0-for-8 performance from downtown last night. O’Neale finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds off the bench in this contest and was a team-high +8. O’Neale also started the second half yesterday over Drew Eubanks, as Phoenix went small to counteract the Clippers’ hot start, and it did end up almost working, as the Suns cut the lead as little as seven in the fourth quarter.

The Suns have rolled out several different starting lineups this season due to injury, but a lineup of Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Allen, Kevin Durant and Jusuf Nurkić had been their staple.

Some questions had been made by fans if O’Neale should start over Allen after O’Neale got the start in a game that Allen missed due to injury last Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. O’Neale finished with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting (5-of-7 from 3-point range) and six rebounds in Allen’s place in a 122-101 Suns’ victory.

Ahead of Phoenix’s next matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves last Friday, I asked coach Frank Vogel if O’Neale could start for Allen before the postseason, as Vogel had mentioned it was a possibility after the Suns traded for O’Neale at the deadline.

“Very unlikely,” Vogel said of the lineup change ahead of the Minnesota game. “Grayson’s been our starter, and I expect it to stay that way. But when you get into or near the playoffs, everything is on the table. So those things will all be discussed.”

This will be O’Neale’s 28th game for Phoenix and eighth start (all had come when filling in for injured players). The 30-year-old veteran has averaged 8.1 points on 41% shooting, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 0.9 steals in 24.5 minutes per game in his time with the Suns.

Before the Suns acquired O’Neale, there hadn’t been much discussion for a while on if anyone other than Allen should be the fifth starter. However, before the season and at the beginning of the year, there were arguments to be made for both Allen and Josh Okogie.

I asked Allen about his approach to the fifth starter competition going into the season on Oct. 17.

“I haven’t thought about it much, I don’t think it makes a ton of difference,” Allen said then. “I feel like there’s a lot of different ways I can help the group. And if I’m playing well, if I’m healthy, if I’m available, I’m going to play as many games I want this year. My goal every season is to play 82 (of 82 games). That means I’m good enough to play, I’m healthy enough to play. And I feel like we can throw a lot of different lineups out.

“It doesn’t really matter to me, it’s not a pride thing to start the game. Whenever I get in there, I’m going to help how I can, so it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s still the same mentality going in.”

Vogel said postgame yesterday to the media that he did not want to reveal the adjustments Phoenix would make tonight against Los Angeles, and this is the first one.

With James Harden, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook all out due to injury tonight, the Clippers will be rolling out a starting lineup of Bones Hyland, Terance Mann, Amir Coffey, P.J. Tucker and Mason Plumlee.

The Clippers are pretty much locked into the fourth seed, as they are two games ahead of the Dallas Mavericks (49-30), who they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over with only three games left.

Meanwhile, the Suns dropped back to a play-in spot, the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference after last night’s loss, one game behind the New Orleans Pelicans (47-32), who they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over.

This means the Suns need every win they can get at this point, so we will see how this lineup change ends up working out.

Tonight’s game tips off shortly after 7:30 from Arena.

Frank Vogel gives short answers after Suns’ 105-92 loss to Clippers

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Brendan Mau is a senior writer covering the Phoenix Suns and more for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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