He's a Big Part of the Plan

PHOENIX — Point guard Shaun Livingston is in the spotlight in the Western Conference semifinals, and the Clippers say that's where he belongs.

The performance of the backup point guard is considered among the keys for the Clippers against the Phoenix Suns, which is fine with Livingston, who daily seems to be growing into his role in the postseason.

The team plans to put a lot on Livingston's shoulders, and it expects a big return.

"He's big for us," Coach Mike Dunleavy said before Livingston delivered 10 points, nine assists and six rebounds in a 130-123 Game 1 loss Monday at US Airways Center. "He's been big all the way down the stretch, at the end of the year and the last series as well.

"His defense and playmaking have been stellar. Offensively, he's just been getting better all the time. Defensively, he was very good in the [last] game here."

On April 5 here, the Clippers defeated the Suns, 119-105. It was the Clippers' most impressive road victory of the season, and Livingston had a strong performance while playing for injured point guard Sam Cassell.

In 36 minutes, the second-year player had 12 points, 13 assists with only one turnover and seven rebounds.

Moreover, Livingston then helped to contain Phoenix point guard Steve Nash, but this year's most valuable player had 31 points Monday. Against the Suns, Livingston will be expected to help out at both guard spots and the wing forward position. He'll go wherever he's needed, Livingston said.

"The more games I'm getting, the more experiencing I'm getting and the more comfortable I feel," he said. "It helps when your teammates have your back, and you have their respect.

"I'm really just trying to piece it all together right now, and this is crucial. From a pride standpoint, being a competitor, I don't want to be a weak link on the court. I want to make sure I'm doing my job."

The Suns' battle lines have been drawn around power forward Elton Brand and center Chris Kaman.

Phoenix said it hoped to contain the Clippers' productive post tandem, attempting to prevent them from catching the ball in good scoring position. The Suns were expected to use multiple double-team schemes against Brand and Kaman, whose inside scoring could help the Clippers control tempo.

Brand has "had a MVP-type year," Phoenix Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's their main weapon. They have a lot of them. We're going to have to do a great job on him."

Brand came up big with 40 points and nine rebounds, but Kaman was limited to eight points and seven rebounds.

Sun forward Shawn Marion said of Brand: "He's got 50 pounds on me. I've just got to use my quickness and athleticism on him, and get him out of his comfort zone."

Backup center Zeljko Rebraca, who experienced chest pains and lightheadedness recently, was on the active list for Game 1.

"It just makes you a little bit nervous," Rebraca said of his heart problems this season. "The last few days, I've felt good."