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Clippers-Suns Game 1 starting lineups: Cam Payne in for Chris Paul

Cameron Payne #15 of the Phoenix Suns reacts to a foul call against the Denver Nuggets during the second half in Game Two of the Western Conference second-round playoff series at Phoenix Suns Arena on June 09, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Cameron Payne on Sunday will start at point guard for the Phoenix Suns, who in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals will play the Los Angeles Clippers without All-Star Chris Paul.

Paul remains in health and safety protocols. The team announced the setback Wednesday, and Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro reported that the point guard had tested positive for COVID-19.

Payne will begin the series with the usual Phoenix starters of Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton.

The Clippers will run out Reggie Jackson, Paul George, Marcus Morris, Nicolas Batum and Terance Mann.

A second-year guard, Mann started Game 6 of the second-round series against the Utah Jazz and is coming off a 39-point performance in place of Kawhi Leonard, who remains out with what is reportedly feared to be an ACL injury.

Payne is averaging 10.2 points and 2.9 assists while shooting 39% from three-point range this postseason.

He is playing 20 minutes per game, a slight uptick from the regular season in which he averaged 18.

Payne played extensively in the first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers as Paul dealt with a lingering shoulder injury. His most extensive run came in Game 2 of that series, when he put up 19 points and seven assists in 33 minutes of a Suns loss.

Payne did not play more than 20 minutes and did not score in double-figures in the conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, as Paul found his form and averaged 25.5 points per game.

“Cam has done a great job of just running the offense, picking up a few pointers from Chris — one of the all-time great point guards of our league — and just being aggressive,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said Saturday. “I think it’s a tough situation for him to get put in because when he comes off the bench, he’s a totally different player.

“But we want him to play the same way. We’re just telling him, ‘Starting or coming off the bench, we want you to play the same way.’ He’s done a great job all playoffs, all season long with just doing what he does, getting guys involved and obviously being a threat himself.”

It’s expected that E’Twaun Moore, who appeared in 27 regular season games, could take on the role as backup point guard to provide more ball-handling along with Payne and Booker.

“He’s always ready. That’s one thing about E. He stays ready,” Payne said of Moore on Friday. “We actually just played out there today and he was killing us today.”

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