Game 1 Preview: Suns vs. Blazers

What you gonna do about it, Portland?

Game Time:  7:00 p.m.  TV:  KGW 

Let the season begin!

Unless you've only become a Blazer fan in the last three months (meaning you're from Nevada or part of Fabricio Oberto's immediate family) you'll remember the Phoenix Suns.  They are the team that uncermoniously bullied and then ousted the Trail Blazers from last year's playoffs.  Game 1, 2010-11:  It's on again.

Well, mostly on anyway.

This Phoenix team doesn't wield quite the same sledgehammer as last year's group.  The head of that hammer, Amar'e Stoudemire, now plays in New York.  Whatever you think of The Big Apostrophe, he was a handful for Portland, especially in the paint.  The Suns have replaced him with a pot pourri of forwards. Distance shooter Channing Frye leads the pack.  Journeyman post-man Hakim Warrick follows, as does the slumping Hedo Turkoglu.  Between those three Phoenix hopes to generate enough offense and rebounding to offset their departed All-Star.  It may work in raw numbers but without the raw fear that Amar'e inspired the Blazers are going to be able to diversify defensively no matter which forward takes the floor.  Frye's ability to spread the court is probably the greatest threat, but Portland will be happy to live or die by his hands if it comes down to that.

The Suns' smaller positions remain unchanged and dangerous.  Every year we wonder if Steve Nash will slow down.  Every year he proves the MVP ain't dead yet.  He's a one-man terror against Portland's lapsing guard defense.  His triple-threat shooting, driving, and passing is beyond the Blazers' capability to handle.  Either that or they have to worry about him so much that Phoenix's other scorers get free.  Jason Richardson personally dug the Blazers' grave last spring, blasting the defense from the perimeter and at the rim.  Injuries slowed him enough that he never became the superstar his youth promised but he can still score 25 without thinking or blinking.  Grant Hill trades on opportunism, taking every inch you'll give him without interfering with the higher-profile players.  He's not above playing physical either, making him a scary tandem with Richardson.

The Blazers don't have to worry about shooting guard Josh Childress, as he broke his finger in the pre-season and will be out for this game.  Point guard Goran Dragic alternates between snappy, scrappy, and crappy.  He feeds on the distance shot, particularly against the Blazers.  It'll be interesting to see if the lack of an inside game for Phoenix allows Portland to guard him closer.

Center Robin Lopez rounds out the Suns lineup.  He's one of the few guys who will stay down low on offense though his touches heretofore have been limited to whatever scraps he can gather once everyone else is fed.  He's a good rebounder but remains untried in big minutes with prime responsibilities. Lopez is good but the big positions are definitely the vulnerable links in Phoenix's chain.

The Blazers should concentrate on the following:

1.  Make the Suns win with their bigs, devoting defensive attention to Richardson and Hill instead.  Shade off and help on any shot that's not right at the rim.  If Lopez, Frye, Warrick, and Turkoglu beat you, so be it.  This is a night for Portland's bigs to block shots off the ball.

2. Deal with the pick and roll.  This has been a Phoenix staple for years, a Nash speciality, and a Blazer weak spot.  Portland has more interchangeable players defensively this season than last so switching remains a viable possibility but they should also be able to stick a Matthews or Batum on Nash and disrupt that play.  If you don't body and push the Suns out of position, making them pay for running the play, they're just going to carve you apart.

3.  Whomever Nash guards should look to score consistently.

4.  LaMarcus Aldridge should be a prime offensive focus in this game.  The Suns don't have anyone to stop him.  It's time for him to show that this is a new season and a new LaMarcus.

5.  As has been true the last couple of seasons, Portland's game is predicated on winning the rebounding battle.  Rebounds disrupt the opponent.  If Phoenix doesn't know when or where they'll get the ball they can't get comfortable.  I don't see anyone on the other side who should keep the Blazers from feasting if they want it.

6.  The Suns went all Olivia Newton-John on the Blazers the last time these two teams met.  It's time for Portland to return the favor.  Plenty of Blazers can bully their counterparts, and that includes the bench.  Nate McMillan ought to dig out his 8-tracks and cue up "Let's Get Physical" in the pre-game locker room.

The Blazers should come out fired up for this game and should take it.  But if they show cracks (or worse, fall apart) Phoenix is more than capable of taking it.  If this were an MMA matchup it would be an up-and-comer against a big name whose best years were behind him but who still packed a punch and plenty of smarts behind it.  The game won't be easy but it is winnable.

You can get the Phoenix perspective at Bright Side of the Sun.  If history is any guide it might not be good to comment there.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form right here. You can win a Nicolas Batum jersey for making the best predictions in October!  All you need to do is fill out the form for each game.  Please make sure you enter the exact same name and e-mail address for each submission.

Our Gameday Open Thread will post a couple hours before tip-off.  Get your discussion on before, during, and after the game right here!

Also, for those interested, the Blazers will stream this broadcast for free.  Details from the team:

TRAIL BLAZERS TO STREAM OPENING NIGHT FOR FREE

Portland is only NBA market to stream games, will offer 16 free broadcasts 

Portland, Ore. - The Trail Blazers will stream all 16 KGW broadcasts live online, in high-definition, throughout the 2010-11 season, starting with the season opener tomorrow night against the Phoenix Suns at 7 p.m.

The Trail Blazers, who are the only NBA team that plan to stream games this year, streamed 15 KGW broadcasts last season, charging a small fee.

"We are extremely excited to facilitate the expansion of our viewing audience via a free stream this season," Trail Blazers Chief Operating Officer Sarah Mensah said. "We take pride in staying on the cutting edge of new technology and in connecting with our fans in new ways."

The 16 KGW games throughout the season include three matchups with Phoenix, three against the defending champion L.A. Lakers and two against in-division rivals Utah and Oklahoma City.

Fans can sign up by visiting trailblazers.com. An FAQ is available on the website that details the technical specifications required to receive the broadcast stream.

The stream will feature television commentators Mike Barrett and Mike Rice, as well as studio analysts Terry Porter and Michael Holton, and studio host Adam Bjaranson.

Pre-game (30 minutes prior to tip-off) and post-game shows (30 minutes following the game) will be included in the stream.

Streamed games will be available exclusively to fans in the team's broadcast territory in Oregon and Southwest Washington (within a 150-mile radius from Portland). Fans outside of the Trail Blazers' 150-mile broadcast territory can also see games online as part of the NBA League Pass Broadband package. Details are available at NBA.com.

KGW's 2010-11 full schedule is as follows: Oct. 26 vs. Phoenix; Nov. 12 at Oklahoma City; Nov. 13 at New Orleans; Dec. 10 at Phoenix; Dec. 25 at Golden State; Dec. 27 at Utah; Dec. 30 vs. Utah; Jan. 14 at Phoenix; Jan. 24 vs. Sacramento; Feb. 2 at Denver; Feb. 23 vs. L.A. Lakers; March 15 vs. Dallas; March 20 at L.A. Lakers; March 25 vs. San Antonio; March 27 at Oklahoma City; and April 8 vs. L.A. Lakers.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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