Game 5 Preview: Blazers vs. Suns

Oh my! I wasn't exactly expecting to lose that last one.

Game Time:  7:30 p.m. Pacific  TV:  KGW and TNT

We've reached a beautiful point in this playoff series.

The first four games were all about adjustments...move and counter-move...feint, thrust, and parry.  At this point both teams (and all of their fans) have seen what the other will bring to the table.  Moves will continue, but for the most part you know how the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns will look to win.  At this juncture the series becomes like the 10th round of a 15-round prize fight.  Innovative strategies start to take a back seat to grit, determination, endurance, and which fighter will impose his will best.  The contrast in styles between these two teams highlights the battle, but no more than the similar things each must do in order to prevail:  get down the floor first, rebound, defend the interior.  This series is amazing because two completely different armies are waging war on the same small patch of turf...the three or four categories that form the high ground determining each battle.

Full disclosure:  I fully expect Phoenix to win this game.  The home court hasn't been telling in this series but emotion has.  In each case the team with the most to lose in the contest has summoned the emotion and won.  Tonight that's Phoenix.  Good news:  the next game that's Portland.  However if the Blazers DO manage to win tonight they take an enormous stride towards taking the series.  They also wrest control away from the team with the most reason for emotion and put it firmly in the grasp of whichever team is wearing red and black.  In short, the news for Portland tonight will either be not too bad or very, very good.  Winning Game 4 made that possible.

A further caution:  In case you haven't figured it out yet, losing to the Suns in a blowout isn't the end of the world.  When Phoenix plays Phoenix ball that's how they win, particularly against the Blazers.  The bright side is that Phoenix can be taken out of Phoenix ball.  When that happens they just don't win.  The question of the series is whether Portland can take Phoenix out of their game long enough and often enough.

Despite that caution, this is an interesting game because I don't know what style to expect.  A 110-106 contest wouldn't surprise me a bit.  The first game was pretty close to that but we could see the first true free-wheeling, two-offenses-clicking type game we've had.   On the other hand a really ugly game wouldn't surprise me either.  Again, you know what both of these teams want to do but you're just not sure if either will be able to do it.

Another key tonight could be foul shots for the Suns.  Being at home they need to take advantage, especially if the game is close.  In addition to the usual pick-and-roll issues I'll be interested to see how the Blazers handle interior defense, particularly if Aldridge or Camby end up in early foul trouble.  It would be better for that not to happen.

What do you anticipate?  Make your call in the comment section.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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