PHOENIX • After victories against their two biggest Western Conference rivals to start the National Basketball Association season, the Los Angeles Clippers had been tipped as the team to chase.
Both wins had come without Paul George, their other prized off-season acquisition along with Kawhi Leonard, leading Lou Williams to declare that "we have a group that can do some really good things".
But after slumping to a 130-122 loss at the Phoenix Suns, the West's worst team last term, predictions that the Clippers will lift their maiden title may be a bit premature - at least until George returns.
The All-Star forward is likely to make his debut in the middle of next month as he works his way back to full fitness after having off-season shoulder surgery, and how his team could have done with his defensive plays at the Talking Stick Resort Arena on Saturday night.
While the Clippers' bench scored 66 points, their third straight 60-plus game after the LA Lakers and Golden State, the Suns made 17 three-pointers as they halted their 12-game losing skid to the Clippers dating back to April 13, 2016.
The hosts have now won two of their first three games for the first time since 2015, and Devin Booker, who led all scorers with 30 points, believes they should no longer be considered also-rans in the league.
"That's going to be our identity," said the guard. "It is a whole different mindset. A whole different mentality. We are all moving as one and we are sticking together."
MAKING HIS MARK
I know nowadays getting a triple-double seems normal, but I take a lot of pride (in it). For me, that's a great accomplishment. Now, I'm able to be in the history books.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK, Houston guard, on passing Magic Johnson for second spot on the all-time list for triple-doubles.
Even more impressive than their upset was that they achieved it in the first game since losing starting centre Deandre Ayton to a 25-game ban for a failed drug test and Suns coach Monty Williams hailed his team, claiming "the fight was really evident tonight".
He said: "Holding that team to 22 points in the first quarter means we got off to a great start.
"They were the Clippers, but we were pretty good."
LA were paced by 28 points from by Montrezl Harrell, while Leonard added 27, but coach Doc Rivers was left unhappy at the way they allowed the Suns to have many wide-open looks.
"You have a couple of these games where you're just late on everything," he said. "I thought we were late on everything.
"On the offensive end, we had no pace. We deserved to lose.''
Clippers centre Ivica Zubac also admitted that they had to work on their communication on the court, calling on his teammates "to talk, you can't stay quiet".
Elsewhere, Russell Westbrook posted his second straight triple-double since joining Houston to lead the Rockets to a 126-123 home win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
The guard had 28 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds to record his 139th career triple-double to pass Magic Johnson for second on the all-time list, behind only Oscar Robertson's 181. Fellow All-Star James Harden had a poor shooting night but still managed 29 points.
"I know nowadays getting a triple-double seems normal, but I take a lot of pride (in it)," Westbrook said. "For me, that's a great accomplishment. Now, I'm able to be in the history books."