Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (20-19) at Phoenix Suns (16-21)

Phoenix Suns 115, Portland Trail Blazers 111

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Approaching the midway point of the season, the Phoenix Suns sit in 11thplace in the West, three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

Who currently holds that precarious position?

Well, that’d be the Suns’ opponent Friday night, the Portland Trail Blazers.

“We have to start playing like it means something,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “I’ve talked about those 50-50 loose balls and rebounds, and [our opponents] have been coming up with most of those balls; we have to start getting our share of them.”

On Thursday it was announced that Portland’s franchise player Brandon Roy would undergo arthroscopic knee surgery on both knees and would miss an indefinite amount of time.

The Trail Blazers are undoubtedly used to playing without Roy; they had won eight of 11 since he was shut down Dec. 15 before dropping their last two to Miami and New York.

Portland has also defeated Phoenix three times already this season and is looking for its first season sweep of the Suns in over a decade.

With its three head-to-head victories over Phoenix, Portland will still own the tiebreaker regardless of Friday’s outcome.

The Trail Blazers have outscored the Suns by 28 in their three meetings.

For the Suns, it appears they will get Grant Hill back from injury after missing the team’s last two games.

“I think so,” Gentry told Suns.com. “He seemed to be moving pretty good. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t. A lot has got to happen between now and 8:30 for him not to [play].”

That’s good news for Phoenix, who clearly missed Hill and has been forced to start Josh Childress in his place.

The Suns got a crucial come-from-behind victory over the Nets Wednesday that may help them build some momentum heading into an easier portion of their schedule.

“The biggest thing is we have to experience the ups and downs but yet still stick together,” Vince Carter said. “We have to find a way to win [more of] these games. That’s the first step to turning this around.”

After Friday night, Phoenix goes on to play the Knicks, Cavaliers, Wizards, Pistons, 76ers and Bobcats before hosting the Celtics on Jan. 28.

In order to improve, the Suns will have to perform better in the third quarter. Over the past couple weeks that’s when the team has fallen behind.

Against the Knicks, Phoenix was outscored by 12 in the third period. Just four nights later, the Nuggets beat the Suns by 21 in the same quarter.

Phoenix was in jeopardy of doing the same thing against New Jersey Wednesday until a Jared Dudley four-point play provided the spark for a 15-point late comeback.

In that same game, Steve Nash had one of his most memorable nights in recent memory.

The veteran moved into first place all-time in NBA history in free-throw percentage at 90.40 percent, surpassing Mark Price at 90.30 percent.

He also led his team in points (23), assists (16) and rebounds (7).

When was the last time Nash accomplished that feat? Dec. 10 against Portland.

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