Game Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: KGW and TNT
Welcome to the most important game the Blazers have played in the last seven years.
The situation is clear, the focus immediate and tight. Portland must win this game or their improbable run this season is over. Portland faced a similar situation last year but the game was in Houston, not at home. Judging by the series so far this game is winnable. If the Blazers do pull it off the Suns have to be a little nervous heading back home for Game 7, wondering what they have to do in order to finally put this Portland team away, worrying if they've let one too many chances slip by. Get to Saturday and anything can happen. But the Blazers can't get to Saturday unless they win tonight.
In the sixth game of a series you pretty much know what's coming. This is especially true in this series. In each game so far one team has enforced its will while the other has gone along for the ride and the eventual loss. The tenor of the games has looked different depending on whose will was being enforced but the battlegrounds for determining that will have been defined by a few, specific keys:
1. Can the Blazers keep the Suns off of the offensive glass? It's totally understandable that the Blazers are giving up some offensive rebounds of their own in order to get back on defense. Letting Phoenix make free with extra opportunities defeats the purpose, though. In a way each offensive rebound is like a mini-fast break. If the Suns don't get an immediate shot at the rim with the board they get to catch Portland's defense unprepared. When the Blazers have limited the Suns to one shot they've been successful. Granted Phoenix spreading the court makes it harder to rebound but at some point the Blazers have to live with perimeter attempts as long as they come one at a time.
2. Can the Blazers outscore the Suns, or at least keep even, in fast break points? Before the series started it would have been nearly incomprehensible, but a large measure of Portland's success has come in transition. The key points have not been ones Portland has scored, though during their good games they have managed quite a few, but ones the Blazers have prevented the Suns from getting. When Portland is consistently first down the floor they succeed.
3. Can the Blazers keep their big men out of early foul trouble? Portland's patchwork lineups have managed to prevent the ship from sinking but in the final analysis there's no substitute for Marcus Camby on defense or the boards and no real replacement for the threat LaMarcus Aldridge poses on offense. The Suns will live with anyone else playing.
4. Can the Blazers force turnovers? The Suns will make them. Every shot Phoenix doesn't get to take is good for Portland.
5. Can the Blazers manage to do all of this and still keep the Suns out of the paint a reasonable amount of the time, preventing not only easy buckets but the fouls that come with close-in play?
In addition the Blazers have to answer questions you don't want to be asking in Game 6 of a series. How much can you expect from Brandon Roy? Is his inspiration and occasional scoring ability worth the lack of defensive mobility and inability to make explosive moves on offense? Will LaMarcus Aldridge be able to hit the jumper that seems to signal his decent offensive nights? Will Andre Miller finally solve Grant Hill? If he can't will Bayless, Batum, Webster, or even Fernandez be able to ride to the rescue? Make no mistake...if this is going to be another win it'll be an incredible win. Then again the Blazers have been in the business of producing incredible wins all year.
Once again I'll remind you: so far every game in this series has been won by the team with the most to lose. Tonight that's Portland. Phoenix needs to break that trend now...to prove that they're capable of winning from the front as well as when their backs are against the wall...to prove that they have enough killer instinct to put a team away. The Blazers? They just have to come out and give it everything they have. They have to do whatever they can to rattle the collective cages of the Suns, as the Suns have not played well at all when challenged or rattled. In short, the Blazers have to play like there's no tomorrow or there won't be.
I don't feel like there's any circumstances under which Portland gives up this game without a fight. Even if Phoenix races out to a lead they can't get comfortable. The Blazers aren't going to hand it to them. They have to take it. We'll see if they can.
All hands on deck. This is not a drill. Anything it takes, do it. Just win.
P.S. Share your keys below if you wish.