Preview: Phoenix Suns (44-31) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (49-27)

Time: 7 p.m. MST

TV: FOX Sports Arizona Plus

Trail Blazers

Trail Blazers

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Just more than a week ago, the Portland Trail Blazers looked like they might find themselves in the same predicament that the Phoenix Suns are in as they enter the Rose Garden on Friday night. LaMarcus Aldridge was injured, and All-Star point guard Damian Lillard didn’t have his best pick-and-roll mate, or any for that matter.

It was bigger than that.

Portland didn’t have the All-Star forward its entire offense revolved around, and Terry Stotts’ team went 3-8 from March 7 through March 25. To be fair, the first four losses of that streak came with Aldridge playing, but the snowball effect was a threat until he returned.

Aldridge has returned and with him, winning has too.

The Blazers host the Suns Friday on a four-game winning streak and with enough motivational memories of losing to Phoenix.

The Suns, meanwhile, could be on the brink of losing their psychological advantage that came in the form of youthful ignorance. They have played loose all along, as if they didn’t know the significance of their success. That was the case on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, but a lackadaisical approach ended poorly in blowing a 17-point second-half lead to fall.

The worse news is that Phoenix’s two competitors for the final two playoff spots, Dallas and Memphis, have been there before. On Thursday night, Dallas built a 12-point lead against the Clippers with less than five minutes to play but let it slip down to two points in the final minute. Unlike Phoenix, Dirk Nowitzki and Co. closed out the win.

The Blazers have a 2.5 lead on sixth-place Golden State in the playoff standings but have enough motivation to play well just a game back of fourth-place Houston. Earning homecourt advantage against the Rockets would be important, of course, so that’s the carrot dangling in front of Portland.

It’s a wonder if the Suns realize just how big their carrot is — or if they can see it at all. Jeff Hornacek is likely laying the reality out for his inexperienced team, but it’s about to be too late for them to learn how to react.

What am I looking for in the battle between Phoenix and Portland?

How well do the Suns handle the pick-and-roll on defense and offense?

On Wednesday, Hornacek was disappointed the Clippers’ two point guards were the ones cutting up the Phoenix defense. He was also in a bind with Chris Paul getting Eric Bledsoe in foul trouble and then forcing Goran Dragic into an off shooting night. On offense, the Suns had best get the guards back into a groove, which they’ve proven quite possible in past games against the Blazers.

But on the other side of the ball, the guards and power forwards will need to be smart in defending Portland’s best weapon, the Aldridge-Lillard pick-and-roll. And once that’s locked down, Phoenix’s help must recover and stop shooters if the ball is kicked out and swung to the weak side.

Can the big brother Jayhawks beat on the little brother Jayhawk?

The Morris twins and Gerald Green gave the Suns tremendous offensive punch in the first half against the Clippers on Wednesday. They combined for 39 points as the Suns led 62-60 after a half. Then it all went silent.

The trio scored a combined three points in the second half and was part of the group that allowed Los Angeles to chop away at a double-digit deficit.

The Blazers have a better bench than last season, but it’s still on the thin side. Guard Mo Williams, guard Dorell Wright and the Morris twins’ little Jayhawk brother, Thomas Robinson, will be the main bench contributors, and Phoenix’s best advantage can’t afford to go cold in a big game.

Will Miles Plumlee give another active performance?

Plumlee was a bright spot against the Clippers — it wasn’t completely his fault he was left in as a matchup disadvantage a few times, most notably on an end-of-quarter, four-point play where he switched onto Chris Paul and was then left on an island.

Plumlee will give it a go against former Suns center Robin Lopez, who quietly has been one of the biggest factors for the Blazers’ improvement this year. He’s averaging about three more rebounds per game as he has in any prior season, is scoring in double-figures and is also contributing 1.8 blocks per game.

Upcoming schedule

A programming note for the future: Four Suns road games will be broadcast on Fox Sports Arizona Plus, including the game at Portland. Here are the four games on FSAZ-Plus.

Friday, April 4, @Portland
Wednesday, April 9, @New Orleans
Saturday, April 12, @Dallas (also on NBATV)
Wednesday, April 16, @Sacramento

How to find FSAZ-Plus

Cable One, 338
Century Link Prism, 763 (SD), 1763 (HD)
Century Link Choice, 999
Comcast (Tucson), 17
Cox, 73, 1073 (HD)
DirecTV, 686-1 (SD & HD)
DISH, 453 (SD), 9576 (HD) / Portland game only **
Mediacom (Apache Junction), 126
Mediacom (Nogales), 2
Orbitel, 29 (SD), 829 (HD)
Suddenlink NPG, 125
Western, 779

** DISH changes its channel location from game-to-game, so fans should check or their programming guide for updates.

  • Dave:f32

    4/4@Trail Blazers – L
    10:00 PM
    4/6vs. Thunder – L
    9:00 PM
    4/9@ Pelicans – W
    8:00 PM
    4/11@ Spurs – W
    8:30 PM
    4/12@ Mavericks – L
    8:30 PM
    4/14 vs. Grizzlies – L
    10:00 PM
    4/16@ Kings – L
    10:30 PM

    Doesn’t look too promising for our “young” Suns.

    Given the way they have played recently, it’s hardly a stretch of predicting how they will do against teams that they have already played earlier in the season.

  • Dave:f32


  • Foreveris2long

    The biggest factor is we have not been there as you illustrated Zimm. While golden State pulled it off last season, they had a couple of low post veterans in Lee and Bogut to rely on when the game slows. the Suns are void of any real low post talent. Dallas and Memphis have the needed low post talent to survive this playoff race and good defensive presence in the paint.

    It is tough to watch the team fall in key games because the Suns are so close to completing a masterful dream season. However when the dust settles, playoffs or not, it was a great season.

  • hawki

    Dave:f32…..Ya think the Suns are gonna beat the Spurs in San Antonio ?
    well maybe…. if Pops sits most of the starters.

    Portland favored by 4 1/2 tonight….1st time Suns have been underdogs since March 23rd when they were
    2 1/2 pt dogs to the TWolves in Minnesota…Suns won that game 127-120.

  • EBJM

    It would be anti-climatic for the Suns to sneak into the playoffs only to face either the Spurs who just had their 19 game winning streak snapped or the Thunder who were the team who snapped it.

    Watching the Mavericks hold on to beat the Clippers show just how far behind the talent curve the Suns are in the West.

    Grizzlies are huge up front as are a healthy Rocket squad. Warriors? The Blazers are the only team the Suns have a legitimate shot at but they will not get a chance to meet them.

    I’d rather Hornacek throw in the towel and let the kids play out the hand. We already know what Frye and Tucker can’t do.

  • Brenton

    What would be the point with 7 games left? Might as well go for it now.

    If the Suns can 2-2 over their next four games(means 1 win against either Spurs, Blazers, or Thunder), then they would be 46-33 going into the last 3 games of the season.

    Sweep the last three, and they are in. You figure 5 wins is probably getting them in, and 6 wins will pretty much guarantee a playoff birth.

    4 wins, probably not, unless the grizz or mavs collapse. Anything less than 4 and playoffs are not happening unless the Mavs and Grizz go 0-7.

  • Dave:f32


    Yes, I do believe that the youthful exuberance of the Suns on the first game of a back-to-back, coupled with the realization that the Spurs may sit the majority of their starters, should garner a Suns W.

    Whether or not the Spurs decide to sit some players, I feel the Suns are young enough to run all over the Spurs, as they have always matched up well and given the Spurs a good game in past games, historically.

    The getaway game may be that Pelican game, as the Suns look forward to playing the Spurs. Esp. being that it is on the road, it could pose a problem for this young team that lacks focus when it counts.

    Other than that, the only other game which I think could go either way would be the Blazers game tonight. I gave the edge to the home team, with how the last game in Portland turned out. But the Suns could surprise everyone, even themselves.

    I’m looking forward to the magic that McD will work when it comes to the draft. Trading up, and trading away current players could be the name of the game. Maybe so far up, that a certain Julius Randle lands on the roster. Would take some vets and a draft pick or two, but it would be worth it, don’t ya think…

  • Al

    I hope McD drafts Adrean Payne and Kyle Anderson with two of the 3 picks this upcoming draft…

  • EBJM

    The Mavs and Grizzlies are going to be pissed off with Popovich because he will sit players period, no questions asked. He could care less about playing playoff spoiler.

  • Luka


    With the way the Suns are playing now I wouldn’t even want to play the Spurs reserves at this point.

  • EBJM

    To Brenton, why risk serious injury to Bledsoe or Dragic? Len and Goodwin could get in seven games against playoff teams, not the summer league or D league.

    Suns had a great season. Who cares about getting bounced in the 1st rd? Player preservation, development and prepare for the draft.

  • DBreezy

    I have a feeling Payne ultimately doesn’t end up drafted here, althoughi expect him to be heavily linked to the Suns in the predraft hype. I don’t know that he fits the mold of the typical Ainge or McD draftee, and I also have a feeling he won’t be the best player available when the Suns draft. I think McD ultimately takes the best assets even if they don’t play a position of need as he’s angling to be ready for a superstar trade.

  • sunsn7

    That’s surprising that you’d want them to throw in the towel at this juncture of the season. Even if the Suns miss the playoffs they aren’t going to move up significantly in the draft order.

    I wanted Goodwin and Len to play from Day 1..not just for tanking purposes but for the development of these 2. Having said that, hoping McD can pull some draft day magic and get you know who in Phoenix.

  • sunsn7

    Gerald Green with that look in his eye and that scowl on his face..

  • Sunsfansince90

    Happy happy joy joy

  • DBreezy

    Too bad Memphis and Dallas are saying the same thing.

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