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Preview: Phoenix Suns (6-11) at Portland Trail Blazers (11-8)

 Portland Trail Blazers 109, Phoenix Suns 71

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The last time the Phoenix Suns played the Portland Trail Blazers, they ran Portland out of US Airways Center in a 25-point drubbing. The Trail Blazers will look to avenge their biggest loss of the season Friday night in the Rose Garden.

The Suns come into this matchup having lost seven of their last nine games. They ended their recent five-game road trip with a 2-3 record, then lost Tuesday night in Phoenix to the Toronto Raptors in a game that saw Phoenix take a double digit lead in the first half before Andrea Bargnani and former Sun guard Leandro Barbosa led the Raptors back. In order to get a win tonight, the Suns will need to find the magic and defense that saw them grab back-to-back wins against the Knicks and Celtics on the road. They will have quite a challenge in front of them as they face a Blazers team that hasn’t lost at home to a Western Conference opponent so far this season.

Portland enters Friday’s game having just completed its first and only back-to-back-to-back of the season. They beat Sacramento on Monday in the Rose Garden behind Jamal Crawford’s season-high 26 points. They followed it up with another home victory over Memphis on Tuesday in which Marcus Camby had 22 rebounds. They ended their three-game run Wednesday in a road loss to Golden State.

In this latest loss the Blazers shot just 41 percent, a number reminiscent of their loss to Phoenix back on January 6. Portland had beaten the Lakers in Portland the night before and their fatigue from the back-to-back was evident from the start. Phoenix got out quickly to big lead and never looked back. The Blazers were hapless from the field in that game, making only 32.5 percent of their attempts.

This game will come down to which team has gotten its rest and used its off days effectively. The Suns may not be the Western Conference powerhouse they once were, but they can still catch a tired team sleeping and run them out of the gym if the opportunity presents itself. Both teams will need to bring all the stamina they can muster or this game could be very one sided.

Players to Watch

Since sitting out the second game of a back-to-back against New Jersey on January 13, Steve Nash has averaged 17.8 points and 10.8 assists per game. His PER of 22.52 is good for 16th in the league. The Suns will need Nash to continue this hot streak if they hope to come out of Portland with a win.

Marcin Gortat will put his streak of nine double-doubles on the line Friday night. He has become Phoenix’s leading scorer and rebounder. The Suns will need both as the Blazers are the 9th best rebounding team in the NBA and are 12th in points allowed.

Since joining the starting lineup last week against the Knicks, Markieff Morris has yet to make a big impact. After scoring in double figures six times in the first 12 games of the season, the Suns’ rookie has yet to score more than seven points. He will need to shake off this scoring funk and give the Suns 25-30 minutes of solid play in this game or he might find himself coming off the bench again soon.

When asked about their opponent tonight, Suns coach Alvin Gentry said, “I think they’re a very good team. LaMarcus Aldridge is almost playing like the MVP of the league this year. They’re obviously good at home. They got guys that can shoot the ball from the perimeter; Batum and Matthews and those guys are very good shooters. Adding Crawford to the mix obviously gives them a closer if they need it. They’re a very good team, but we have to approach the game like we did here, where we were aggressive and try to attack, and then we (have to) do a good job defensively.”

Crawford and Aldridge will be the keys for Portland. Both were held under their scoring averages last time the Blazers played Phoenix. Crawford, in particular, had a terrible night shooting the ball (3-14, 10 points). 3-point shooting will also be a big factor. The trio of Crawford, Nic Batum, and Wesley Matthews shot only 2-for-11 from beyond the arc last time around. That number will need to improve if they hope to win at home against Phoenix.

Players we won’t be watching

Robin Lopez, the Suns backup center, will miss this game due to suspension. Lopez made contact with an official during the Suns’ loss to Toronto on Tuesday. He was ejected from that game and suspended one game without pay.

Keys to a Phoenix victory

  1. Shooting efficiency. The Suns rank 17th in offensive efficiency this year, scoring 99.4 points per every 100 possessions. This is shocking for a team that has perennially been in the upper echelon of the league in this rating. They will need to score like the Suns of old to keep up with this hungry Blazers team.
  2. Fast start. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it warrants mentioning nonetheless. Both teams are tired and if either gets out to a big lead to start the game, it might just force a fold from their opponent. A fast start keyed Phoenix’s last victory over Portland; it could do so again.
  3. Offensive rebounding. The Suns rank near the bottom of the league in offensive rebounding rate. The Blazers rank third in defensive rebounding. The Suns will need to bang the offensive glass and create second chance opportunities for themselves.

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Tags: Marcin Gortat Markieff Morris Phoenix Suns Preview Steve Nash

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