After seemingly playing every other night with their fair share of back-to-backs mixed in, the Phoenix Suns have finally caught a break in their schedule, with just one game slated over the course of 10 days.
But the Suns better not forget that they are not on an early spring break tonight when the Portland Trail Blazers visit US Airways Center, meekly limping into the break.
The schedule makers have done Portland no such favors, as the Blazers flew in late Tuesday night after dropping an 89-77 decision to Oklahoma City. They have lost two games since the Suns last played (also falling to the Lakers on Saturday), and the injury-ravaged Blazers have lost six of nine overall and are 9-11 in 2010.
Of course, much of the Blazers’ issues have to do with a roster decimated by injuries. The latest casualty is All-Star and noted Suns killer Brandon Roy, whose gimpy hamstring will keep him out of this one. Portland is already without centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla and forward Travis Outlaw.
At full strength, I think the Blazers would be one of the top four teams in the West, but they just aren’t in their current state. Players have shuffled in and out of their lineup all season, and while they are still a fun, exciting team, injuries have certainly caused a step back in Rip City.
Missing Roy is crucial because the Suns just don’t seem to be able to guard him, and the Blazers are just 5-8 in games he’s missed in 2010. It’s really amazing how lucky the Suns have been of late; they have missed Yao (duh, but still), Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and now Brandon Roy in just over a week. In other words, they have essentially missed the West All-Stars.
Even with all the injuries, Portland has still maintained a potent offense (sixth, 107.7 pp100), although the Blazers once again are the slowest team in basketball, averaging a hair under 90 possessions per game.
In place of Roy, the Blazers started Nicolas Batum on Tuesday, but previously those starts had been going to Jerryd Bayless. And since Lockman slobbered over former Devil Jeff Pendergraph, it’s only fitting to balance it out with a few words on the former Wildcat.
Bayless is playing through a pretty inconsistent season, both in terms of playing time and production. He has shined at times, such as his then-career-high 29 points against the Suns on Dec. 17, but he has also suffered through his share of poor shooting performances.
I have never covered a basketball player who took losing as hard as Jerryd Bayless did in his one year at Arizona, and there certainly was more losing than he would have liked that year. From what I’ve seen from him before turning pro and in his few glimpses of NBA greatness, I still think he’s a special talent. You know he will be motivated playing a few miles south of his high school tonight, so limiting Bayless will be a key for Phoenix tonight.
As for the Suns, they just need to stay focused and make sure they don’t start reading their press clippings again. This is not a time to get fat and happy, this is a time to beat a quality team while it’s down and banged up.
With a win, the Suns would put four games of space between themselves and the Blazers, including four games in the loss column. After fighting for their playoff lives all last week, the Suns enter today with a 3 1/2 game lead on a playoff spot, breathing room that could come in handy if Phoenix suffers through another rough patch. By that same token, the Suns are now the same distance from third (two games) as they are eighth.
If the Suns just play with the kind of focus and intensity that characterized their road trip, they will enter the All-Star break on a six-game winning streak.