Preview: Phoenix Suns (17-36) at Portland Trail Blazers (25-28)

Time: 8 p.m. MST

TV: FSAZ

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Predictions targeted the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers to finish the season sunk at the bottom of the Western Conference. The Suns already find themselves in that very place, and the Trail Blazers come out of the All-Star break with a surprising record yet running the risk of joining Phoenix in the cellar if they don’t get things turned around.

The Suns and Blazers meet Tuesday in Portland on four and five game losing streaks, respectively. The All-Star break was likely welcome to each, but Portland still has something to fight for. Only three games separate the 25-28 Trail Blazers from the eighth-place Houston Rockets, but a road trip heading into the break ended with five losses in a row and a concluding, 96-63 shellacking from the New Orleans Hornets.

Meanwhile, Lindsey Hunter’s team recently found four new ways to falter. Phoenix also lost to the less-lowly Hornets, but the Suns also got blown out twice by the Oklahoma City Thunder before dropping a game against the Lakers despite Kobe Bryant’s worst scoring output since 2005.

With that, the pundits and analysts are 1-for-2 with these two squads, and Terry Stotts’ team would like to keep those experts only half-correct. A win against the Suns would help them get back to the thoughts of a playoff berth.

The biggest issue for Portland could be injured shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who prior to the All-Star break marked the game against the Suns as an ever-important one. He told OregonLive.com that he’s spent the last week resting and treating a bum ankle that he suffered in the New Orleans beatdown. More problematic, apparently, has been an elbow injury that made it difficult for the Blazers’ gritty defender to simply dribble the ball.

Matthews’ availability would be a jolt for Portland in regards to confidence more than anything that would appear in the box score.

The Blazers also struggled of late as All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge began showing wear from carrying a team without depth. Center J.J. Hickson, once making a decent case as one of the most improved players in the league, also sputtered in production over the last five games.

Likewise in Phoenix, Goran Dragic hadn’t appeared to be his regular self during the Suns’ losing streak. He turned the ball over at least three times in the last four games and in seven games during February is shooting 40.7 percent from the floor – he is at 44 percent for the season. Shooting woes have hit Luis Scola (40.5 percent over the last 10 games) as well, and Marcin Gortat failed to grab more than seven boards in the past four games. He didn’t score more than six points in the last three.

The only Suns player who scored in double-figures in more than two of those last four games was – you guessed it – Michael Beasley, who scored in double-figures three times for a 14.5 average on 44.4 percent shooting.

The slog of the season continues on for the Suns. Brighter days don’t appear to be in the immediate future, but with fresh legs and a little luck against a Portland team reeling in similar fashion, a single win to start the post-All-Star schedule will at least keep the thick smoke of losing out of the locker room for the time being.

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