Game 71 Preview: Blazers vs. Suns

Game Time:  7:30 p.m. Pacific  TV:  Comcast and ESPN

Winning 11 games in your last 14 is a pretty good streak to carry into this game.  Unfortunately that distinction belongs to the Phoenix Suns.  The Blazers, if you've been counting, have won 10 of their last 12.  Technically that's better percentage-wise but for all intents and purposes the Suns have been playing every bit as well as the Blazers have for the last few weeks.  Plus Phoenix can count wins over the Hawks, Thunder, Nuggets, and Jazz in that stretch.  Plus Phoenix is playing at home.  This will be a stiffer challenge than the Blazers have been facing lately.

The challenge is stiffened further by these teams' proximity to each other in the conference standings.  Phoenix is in a virtual dead heat with the Thunder for the 5th and 6th positions.  Portland has sole possession of 8th.  But the teams are separated by only 2 games in the loss column.  You can be sure this night is circled on the calendar for both squads.

The other morning on the radio Dwight Jaynes mentioned that the Blazers had the blessing of playing some of the teams directly ahead of them in the standings as the season closes.  It's always nice to have the chance.  But blessings can also become curses.  Tonight could be a quick jump towards catching the Suns in the seeding race.  It could also be the end of that dream.  This is the problem with playing these games.  The team ahead is in an "or" situation.  Phoenix can either win tonight or win more than the Blazers do down the stretch to finish ahead.  Portland is in an "and" situation.  They pretty much have to win tonight and they still have to win more than the Suns do for the remainder of the season.  Both teams have the game circled but Portland has more on the line.

The Suns aren't that much different of a team than you remember.  They still feature Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Jason Richardson.  Robin Lopez, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, and Leandro Barbosa provide support.  They're beating opponents with amazing offense, usually allowing the opponent 100 but scoring well above that themselves.  Stoudemire has had a great run lately, topping 30 in 6 of the Suns' last 9 games and scoring 29 in a 7th.  Nash's assists have been through the roof as well.  They're clicking on all cylinders.  The three losses in their streak came to the L*kers, Jazz, and Spurs.  The Blazers will need to play like one of those teams in order to come out ahead.

This will be a game in which Brandon Roy will need to shine.  The common factor to many Suns' losses is a single opponent breaking the defense to the point they can't compensate, allowing everyone else to chip in.  If Brandon can't produce points tonight the Blazers might not be able to generate enough offense to win.  I don't believe this game can be won with defense alone.  The Suns are too good at putting the ball through the hoop.  That means Brandon's teammates will have to follow him into the breach.  We might not need a particular player to take shots alongside Brandon.  Rather whoever ends up with the shot needs to hit it.  This includes open three-point shooters.  It also includes Andre Miller going to the hole against Nash.  I'd love to see 'Dre get physical with Nash.  We know Rudy Fernandez won't be there to take minutes so a Jerryd Bayless B-Rex performance would be welcome as well.  Drive, punish, draw fouls.  On the other end Portland needs to keep Phoenix's easy buckets to a minimum.  They'll hit shots but you want to make them earn what they get.  Pretty much Portland needs to be ready for a war and do everything they can to make sure they get both the first and the decisive strikes.

I expect this to be a barnburner.  I am curious to see whether the Blazers can torch Phoenix's barn as much as the Suns will probably torch Portland's.  An utter conflagration that Portland walked out of up 4 wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

Anything else is probably overthinking it.  The Blazers are either ready for this kind of challenge or they're not.  Go!  Fight!  Steal one!

See how Phoenix is preparing at BrightSideoftheSun.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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