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

 Portland Trail Blazers 109, Phoenix Suns 71

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Trail Blazers

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.

Tags: Marcin Gortat Markieff Morris Phoenix Suns Preview Steve Nash

  • Zak

    Morris really isn’t ready to play big minutes against NBA starting PFs IMO but the Suns have little choice tonight since Frye will be picking up the slack as the backup center with Lopez suspended.

    Even though there isn’t a real “go-to” guy on this team, this year everyone except Nash and Gortat seems to be playing below the levels that they played at last year. I don’t expect miracles from this team but I didn’t expect them to be this bad this year.

    Nice preview, Ryan.

  • Zak

    BTW, my thanks to all the VOTS writers. I enjoy reading all that you write!

  • Scott

    @Zak -

    Hill finally has his legs. His stats the last few games have been more of what we expect of him. So I’d amend your comment to say that “Nash, Hill, and Gortat” are now playing at their normal levels, and the rest of the team is not.

    But as I’ve said before, I think either Gortat needs to go for 30 points per game, and thus start to draw regular double teams, or the Suns need to reconsider their floor-spacing strategy.

  • Zak

    I’ve noticed that Hill has been coming back lately but it seems that no one else has. Nash is playing at basically the same level as last year and Gortat has raised his level of play slightly. All of Frye’s numbers have dropped this year (even rebounding) but Dudley’s numbers actually aren’t too far off last year as are Warrick’s.

    I suppose the problem may very well be that the Suns just have too many role players and no real “go-to” guy on the team. As great as Steve Nash is, he’s never been “the man” when you need scoring. He can be that guy on certain nights but that’s just not his game. Amare was that type of player but he’s long gone so no use in crying over that anymore.

    The Suns really need someone who thrives on scoring. Lol, obviously. That alone wouldn’t make them a champion but it would at least throw them back into the mix.

  • Scott

    Considering the game tonight, and assuming the same Suns starting lineup, I guess on defense I’d put Hill on Wallace, Gortat on Aldridge, Morris on Camby (note to rookie: Camby can hit jumpers), and Price on either Felton or Matthews. Theoretically, this would severely limit Portland scoring.

    I’d also instruct Morris to try to wear the older Camby out on defense by fighting a bit for position, so Camby has less energy to apply toward defending Gortat’s offense.

    The Suns need to win the rebound battle.

    On the offensive side, there’s not much the Suns can do that they don’t already do. There are no mismatches on the roster to exploit, so far as I can see, except possibly with the 2nd unit, if – for example – Frye or Brown was to get hot from 3.

    Warrick, playing as 2nd unit PF, might have the ability to out-quick Craig Smith on offense, but I can see where in half court sets Warrick will be stuck jacking up jumpers as he won’t be deep enough and Kurt Thomas well be defending the hoop.

    I can also see where the 2nd unit could struggle against Smith and Thomas for rebounds, unless Frye has his rebounding cap on.

  • shazam

    @ scott i dont think we will see gortat and lopez on the floor together tonight…serious tho …at this point what do the suns have to lose by trying them together?…i say DO IT soon

  • Cam

    So I just looked at the western conference standings. Almost a third of the way through the season and the Suns are tied for 12th with the warriors. Only the kings and the hornets sit behinds them in the standings, and the Suns are one of the 3 hornets wins. I know some people will point to the fact that, being only 4 1/2 games out of the pacific lead, there still is a chance if the Suns make a run, but I just don’t see it. The more I watch their erratic play the more I feel that some type of move should be made.

    Bogut just went down for essentially the rest of the season. If I were the Suns front office, I would see if there was any way to swing Fropez and the Suns second round pick for the Bucks first rounder. The Bucks get a young center with no long term commitment and the Suns prep for rebuild status.

    I guess I’m getting a little pessimistic but unless the Suns can pull in an Eric Gordon in the offseason, I don’t see them being anything but cellar dwellers for the next handful of seasons.

    It’s actually quite depressing to see Nash play so well as of late with nothing but losses to show for it. In the twilight of their careers players like Nash should be able to go out on top, not with a whimper. Cheers to greed and the almighty dollar (as I glare at Robert Sarver). Go Suns.

    p.s. I’m not a Sarver hater, I just find no one else to blame right now.

  • shazam

    agree w/ cam 100 percent

  • Scott

    @Cam -

    As to your last point, I don’t think anyone really deserves the blame. It’s just misfortune; and just as one can enjoy good fortune, bad fortune can come as well.

    I think the Suns made the right moves in many situations. The Dragic trade was not one of them, but I think they thought Dragic was worse than he was, and that Brooks was better than he was.

    The signing of Childress was questionable to me. But I guess the Suns thought they were getting a great player who fit into their system, only to find they’d signed someone to a long expensive contract only to have Hill take all his minutes. So it’s good fortune to have Hill, and for Hill to play so unexpectedly well after his time in Orlando, but bad fortune to have signed Childress as well.

    Likewise, it was a bad choice to have signed Turkoglu, but it turned out to be good fortune, because the Suns landed Gortat.

    So the Suns are in a slump now. I’m not sure what will bring them out of it, but something good could happen.

    I don’t think the Bucks trade would be likely, though, as the Bucks probably want to keep their first round pick, and might even be in lottery mode as we speak. They wouldn’t want to give it up for a 2nd rounder and a half-season rental of a Suns backup center.

  • Scott

    @shazam -

    I have much the same attitude about the Gortat / Lopez idea. I don’t know for sure it will work, but I’d like to see it for a few minutes a couple times just to see.

    While I don’t think Gentry would do this on his own, I’m encouraged by knowing that Gortat has actually asked Gentry to do it. Now if only Nash would ask … ;)

  • shazam

    @ scott bwahahahahaha dude you are funny…so nailed it….good one

  • Cam

    I’m not necessarily placing blame on Sarver, I am just venting My frustration and at this point in time I felt he would be the recipient. The Suns are a team full of role players with a few (two) true starters in Nash and Gortat (Hill is a fringe starter but would be a better sixth man). The blame for that gets placed on the front office. Instead of hiring a GM with experience, like Kevin Pritchard (former trailblazers GM) Sarver hired Lance Banks as the GM and Lon Babby as the President of basketball ops. Babby has players he was associated with brought in. When you have one of the top 5 point guards in the league on the team why do you trade for a point forward in Turkoglu, a man who plays better with the ball in his hands and distributes it himself. Then the front offiice makes a good trade with the Magic, only to give up the first round pick they had obtained in that trade to the Rockets. If they had made the Brooks trade straight up for Dragic I could’ve stomached it a little. But no, let’s throw a first rounder in for good measure. There were players available at that pick last year that could have helped the Suns, Marshon Brooks to name one. No one actually knows how well a player coming out of college will be but I think as soon as the Suns agreed to send Dragic and a first to them for Brooks they jumped at the opportunity. After seeing the trade on the ticker tape that night I silently prayed that it had been sent in too late, like the OJ Mayo trade, only to have those prayers go unanswered.

    So in summary, Sarver hired Blanks and Babby, Blanks and Babby made more bad than good personnel decisions, the team is struggling partly because of those bad personnel decisions, thus I place the blame on Sarver.

    Go Suns.