PHOENIX — The Blazers landed the first punch.
Now it’s the Suns’ turn to counter.
If not, this could be the last game US Airways Center hosts all season.
Yes, Game 2 is that desperate of a situation with the Suns facing two games against Portland’s raucous crowd later this week. And except when there’s some sort of Westphal Guarantee, losing the first two games at home typically spells doom in any playoff series.
The Blazers, meanwhile, not only are playing with house money, but the owner of the casino stopped by to hand them a stack of thousands to play with. Nobody expected them to have a chance in this series, and here they are with an opportunity to sweep the first two in Phoenix and effectively take away most of Phoenix’s hope.
The Suns will be playing with the pressure of their incredible season on their shoulders; the Blazers will be playing with the kind of pressure stars face in the opening minutes of an All-Star Game.
If the Suns hope to win, a number of things must be different. As mentioned last night, the Suns need Amare to play like the Amare that terrorized opponents down the stretch and the team needs to do a better job of limiting Andre Miller.
My next move would be to give Jarron Collins a front row seat to the action and start Channing Frye. Before Game 1, head coach Alvin Gentry said he planned to stick with the rotations that got him here, and as far as playing the entire bench their normal minutes I could not be more on board.
But Gentry should think back to the starting center switch he made that turned around Phoenix’s season and do it again, this time in the opposite direction by re-inserting Channing Frye into the starting lineup. Portland isn’t respecting Collins’ offensive game in the least bit in using his man to pack the middle even more, and since Collins can’t beat them Phoenix is essentially going four on five offensively.
ESPN Insider John Hollinger cited basketballvalue.com in saying the Suns are 13.2 points per 100 possessions worse offensively with Jarron Collins on the floor this season. On the flip side, they are a team-high 6.8 pp100 better offensively with Frye out there; Frye just edges out Steve Nash for best offensive rating on the Suns. For the season the Suns were 15-plus points better per 100 possessions with Frye than Collins, last on the team in this department by a wide margin.
With the Suns desperately needing to find their rhythm offensively, I would start Frye and then give Lou Amundson more time off the bench.
“We’ve just got to get the rhythm and the pace to our game,” Grant Hill said.
At the other end the Suns can’t allow Miller and Jerryd Bayless to combine for 25 fourth-quarter points. The Suns must stop their penetration, but this is a problem not just limited to Game 1.
According to Hollinger, in the four combined games this season Portland guards have scored 52.3 percent of the team’s points while playing 39.0 percent of the available minutes. For the season they produced 44.3 percent of the team’s scoring in a similar amount of time.
“We’ve got to do a better job of crowding him, not letting [Miller] get layups and not letting him get to the middle,” Richardson said.
It’s also noteworthy that many players on the Suns’ second unit such as Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Amundson and for all intents and purposes Frye were getting their first pieces of serious playoff time Sunday night. Dudley said “the jitters are out” now, so the team should start to look more like the Suns we all know in Game 2.
That’s my biggest key to Game 2. They must play with a better pace and rhythm, and get Amare in more situations where he’s not just going one on one against Marcus Camby. They need to run with a purpose and score at a pace that the shorthanded Blazers can’t match.
“We’ve just got to pick up our energy,” Richardson said. “We’ve got to continue to force it, continue to run, get up and down the court. They’re the type of team that will grind it out, and we’re more a team that likes to speed it up so we’ve go to just keep our tempo and keep on playing the pace we normally play.”
Every series has a blowout, and if the Suns do just that I think this could be the one. The Blazers are guaranteed of the split that they likely wanted to get heading into the week, and the Suns will be the desperate team playing for their lives tonight.
The Suns have not dropped consecutive games since Jan. 25-26, a span of 84 days and eight consecutive wins. Their season depends on that streak staying intact by night’s end.