PHOENIX — To the Suns, TNT ought to be spelled D-O-O-M. They have lost 16 straight games on the network.
“This is a TNT game and our TNT record’s not that good,” Amare Stoudemire said after Tuesday’s win over the Spurs, confirming that the players are indeed aware of the streak.
More than that, though, the Suns will look to avoid their sixth straight road loss, which would be their longest losing streak away from home since 2004. Luckily for the Suns, they had a day off before this game, rather than playing a back-to-back.
“Portland’s going to be a tough one,” Stoudemire said.
The Suns lost both games at the Rose Garden last year, but won both times the Blazers came to US Airways Center.
The Suns have certainly struggled on the road against the league’s best teams (Cavs, Mavericks, Lakers, Nuggets … the list goes on), but the Trail Blazers at 15-11 seem more manageable than the Kobes and LeBrons.
If Stoudemire controls the paint anything like he did against the Spurs (besides that whole Tim Duncan season-high points thing, Stoudemire was great with 28 points and 14 rebounds), matchups down low should be less of a concern. Thus, the Suns can focus on their recent dreadful shooting. To their credit, the Suns have shot 52.2 percent from the field in their last three, but the prior five-game stretch saw the Suns shoot 43.5 percent.
If the Suns’ hot shooting continues — particularly from Steve Nash, Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley –they’ll like be able to put up enough points to escape Oregon with a ‘W’ before heading home for the holidays. Following the game in Portland, the Suns play 10 of 12 in US Airways Center, including the first four.
“(The Trail Blazers) have a great team,” Dragic said. “It’ going to be tough there, but if we just play Suns basketball, pushing the ball and making easy baskets, we’ll be fine.”
The Trail Blazers are without center Greg Oden, who recently went down with a knee injury (Oden? Knee problems? No way!). But LaMarcus Aldridge provides a scoring threat in the paint with 16.5 points per game and Joel Przybilla provides a mild rebounding threat with 7.7 per game. Przybilla is otherwise pretty useless, scoring a terrifying 4.1 points a game.
With Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw, Nicolas Batum and Jeff Pendergraph all aching as well, no team has been hit harder by injuries and the NBA even granted the team a hardship, allowing them to sign a 16th player.
While injuries haven’t taken the same toll on the Suns that they have on the Blazers, the boys in orange are a little banged up right now nonetheless. Obviously, Leandro Barbosa remains out with an ankle injury, and he is shooting for a Christmas return. Lou Amundson suffered a mild ankle sprain against the Spurs, but The Arizona Republic reports that he will play tonight.
The Republic also reports that Jason Richardson, probably the biggest injury concern at the moment after suffering a sprained right hand Saturday against the Nuggets, could be held out tonight in order to allow the hand more time to heal. Richardson played Tuesday, but seemed limited on offense, scoring only three points. Richardson did, however, contribute on defense, pulling in seven rebounds. There’s no denying, though, that J-Rich’s nearly 16 points per game are missed when he’s not in top form.
However, if Dragic keeps playing the way he did in more than 25 minutes against the Spurs, fans might start clamoring for him to start alongside Nash. Dragic’s career-best 18 points and four three-pointers against the Spurs blew most everyone away, including Tim Duncan, who said Dragic “shocked” the Spurs.
Steve Nash will aim for his fifth consecutive 20-point game against the Blazers but will likely look to get the whole team involved first. Nash’s 13 assists proved a perfect complement to his 25 points, and Nash ran circles around Spurs guard Tony Parker.
Nash will take on Andre Miller tonight against Portland. Miller is averaging 11.1 points and 4.5 assists per game. Clearly the biggest threat the Suns will look to contain, though, is guard Brandon Roy, who is contributing 21.3 points and 5.2 assists per game.
This could be a game in which the Suns’ stellar three-point shooting abilities come into play once again. The Suns lead the league, shooting 43.3 percent from deep with a total of 240 threes made (second in the league). Portland is shooting 35 percent with 164 threes made.
If the Suns can force the Blazers to focus on Stoudemire in the paint, they should be able to get some open shots from deep. And if the Portland defense focuses on the perimeter, Stoudemire should be able to do work down low. Could be a win-win situation, but again, this is a road game … and it’s on TNT.