Wednesday night is the matchup of surprisingly good Western Conference teams.
Both Portland and Phoenix are 5-2 and were not expected to be anywhere near the positive side of .500 by the end of year in preseason predictions. The Trailblazers have LaMarcus Aldridge and last season’s rookie of the year, Damian Lillard, as their best players, while the Suns have apparent superstars Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris. (Joking about Morris, I understand it is a small sample size).
Both teams are on winning streaks and beating projections, but will it continue for either team?
Portland had a historically abysmal bench last season, so they bolstered it by adding veterans Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, and Earl Watson. They also drafted C.J. McCollum (who is currently injured) Allen Crabby and Jeff Withey. Withey was promptly traded with other parts for center Robin Lopez. These acquisitions upgrade their second unit, giving them a chance to win. It’s obviously working so far, even with McCollum out for a bit.
Phoenix’s situation was completely different.
They just required a youth movement. Phoenix needed to get younger and much more athletic, which it did through the draft and four blockbuster trades completed by new Suns GM Ryan McDonough. In fact there are so many new faces, the only players on the active roster at the beginning of last year (so excluding Frye) that are on the team now are P.J. Tucker, Goran Dragic and Markieff Morris. The rest are new… and that’s a good thing.
This influx of youth and athleticism also brought an unexpected amount of talent that is winning games for Phoenix.
Matchup to watch: Power forwards. LaMarcus Aldridge versus Channing Frye as starters with same build and ability to shoot from the perimeter. Also, can Markieff continue his hot streak? He and Aldridge are averaging similar stats so far. Aldridge is averaging more points and rebounds (skewed by Morris’ first two games before he broke out), but Markieff has a significantly higher player efficiency rating of 27.34 compared to Aldridge’s 21.05. Morris’ efficiency rating is sixth in the entire NBA and just ahead of LeBron’s.
Markieff missed practice today with flu-like symptoms, but is expected to play according to the Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro.
Opponent’s (slightly under-the-radar) player to watch out for: Nicholas Batum has only averaged 12.9 points per game thus far into the season, but is easily capable of more. I could see him having a big game.
Stat of the night: Suns are the only team to have two players with a top-11 PER (Markieff at 6th and Bledsoe at 11th).
Random note: Dragic is back in the starting lineup after missing four of the seven games so far, due to various injuries. He most recently missed practice due to his wife giving birth to their first child.
Predictions: the Suns will win the game 97-86, giving them a 6-2 record. Dragic will lead the team in points and assists, while Plumlee will lead them in rebounds and blocks.