ValleyoftheSuns writers Michael Schwartz, Mike Schmitz and Tyler Lockman pick our key players and key stats that will decide the Phoenix Suns’ first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers before making our predictions.
Michael Schwartz: I’m going to cheat and go with two, and they’re the guys stepping in for Brandon Roy: Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless. Though they combined to average just 16.6 a game in the regular season, both scorers are capable of much more given the opportunity, and opportunity they will get with Roy shelved. These are players who can go off at any time, and if the Suns keep them under wraps I just don’t see how Portland will score enough to stay with the Suns no matter how slow they keep the pace.
Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez
Mike Schmitz: If there is one player in a Portland uniform that can change the complexion of this series it is Marcus Camby. No, he won’t rip the nets on offense, but he has the ability to alter shots down low while grabbing virtually every board in sight. No one has been able to slow down Amare Stoudemire since the All-Star break, but the 6-foot-11 center averaging around two blocks a game has the length and skill-set to alter shot after shot. If there is one player to fear entering this series, it’s Camby.
Tyler Lockman: It’s hard to pick one key player in this series and it would be easy to pick Brandon Roy solely because he’s not playing. But with the Trail Blazers’ ability to control the tempo of games, Camby could prove key in their efforts to slow the Suns’ offense.
“Camby is always a wild card with that team,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “He’s as good of a weak side defender and shot blocker as there is in the game.”
If Camby is able to dominate in the paint and throw off the Suns’ offensive pace with his defense, it will tough for the Suns to adapt over an entire series.
Michael Schwartz: My issue isn’t so much about what Portland does as is it just about the Suns themselves. When Phoenix took care of the ball during the regular season, the team was damn near unbeatable. When the Suns got sloppy and turned it over a good amount, numerous losses resulted. The games obviously won’t be played at a helter-skelter pace, so the Suns have no excuse not to take care of the ball. If they don’t, they will give the Blazers every chance to steal the series.
Mike Schmitz: The Phoenix Suns have always been a team dependent on rhythm, and that doesn’t change with the Blazers in town. Nate McMillan and company will do everything in their power to make this a grind-it-out, half-court series, but if the Suns are able to connect from distance and get stops on the defensive end, they can play any style they choose. Nash and Gentry will push the tempo, and with a lesser Blazers offense, defensive rebounds resulting in fast-break outlets will be a normal occurrence. Get the necessary stops, and the pace is all Phoenix Suns.
Tyler Lockman: Portland’s got size. The Suns don’t. If Robin Lopez was playing, rebounding wouldn’t be as much of a concern, but given that Channing Frye doesn’t really rebound, rebounding could be an issue. Amare Stoudemire usually needs a big man down low playing defense to get boards, but he won’t have one. Going up against Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge, it’s going to be on guys like Grant Hill and Jason Richardson to crash the boards. The Suns cannot give Portland easy second chances, because the Blazers will take advantage of them.
Michael Schwartz: If the Suns set the tone early in the series with a Game 1 rout, they could snuff out much of the hope remaining in this Portland team. But I see this series being more of a grind than many people expect, with lots of close games that require execution down the stretch. Although that hasn’t been a strong suit of the Suns in the past, I just think they’re playing too well with an ability to win too many different ways for the shorthanded Blazers to have a legitimate chance. Portland will make it a series, but the Blazers will never seriously threaten to win it.
Suns in five
Mike Schmitz: On paper, there is no doubt the Phoenix Suns should sweep this series, but every fanatic of Planet Orange knows the vulnerability of the Suns. Mental lapses are a regular occurrence, and with a scrappy Portland team as the opponent, the Suns will inevitably drop a few games. Expect LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trail Blazers to steal a game or two in Phoenix and make this series a lot closer than it needs to be. But the Suns’ hot streak and superior talent will ultimately have the last word.
Suns in six
Tyler Lockman: As good as Portland is, the Blazers are not the same team without Brandon Roy. Or Greg Oden. Or Joel Przybilla. This is definitely a team that could beat the Suns if totally healthy, but it’s a different team due to those injuries. The Blazers may be playing with a little extra fire because no one thinks they can win, but the Suns’ focus right now just seems unbreakable. Portland should take a game at home, where the crowd is one of the best in the league, but ultimately, I think the Suns will outplay them and not allow them to control the tempo of the game the way they need to to win.
Suns in five