Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW
The Phoenix Suns aren't the worst team the Portland Trail Blazers have played this season. They're just the team that has laid the worst whuppin' on the guys in red and black. At 6-11 on the season such blowouts are rare for the Suns. I'm sure they remember it well. Hopefully so do the Blazers.
The Suns have managed a 2-2 record over their last four games, beating New York and Boston while narrowly losing to the Mavericks and Raptors, all but the final contest played on the road. They've managed this small not-losing streak by curtailing their overtly generous defensive tendencies. They had given up 100 in 6 of 13 games prior including their last 5 in a row. Every time that happens they lose. They even managed to give up 110 to New Jersey and 118 to Chicago...atrocious numbers. But the opponent has been under 90 three times in their last four.
Phoenix's defensive trouble traces to a simple source. They're a pace-control, possession-control defense but they can't rebound. Fast break controlled? Check. Lane guarded? Pretty much. Hand in face on shot? OK. Ooops! Where's the ball? If you're willing to play down to their defense, walking the ball and being content with one shot they have a fighting chance against you. If you work at all they'll have trouble stopping you. They just don't have the big men to manage a physical contest. Eventually they get tired of the pounding, their defensive gravity diminishes, and you achieve escape velocity.
The Suns are anemic offensively. They're one of a litany of teams the Blazers have played lately that struggle to score easy points. They don't fast-break except in the most obvious situations. Their gig is slow tempo now. They don't have paint scorers. They don't draw free throws. They're jump-shooters. They'll feed center Marcin Gortat every once in a while That's the repertoire.
And the repertoire, sadly, is unreliable. Make no mistake, Gortat and Steve Nash are very good. Nash is above 14 point, 10 assists on 53.5% shooting. Gortat gives 15 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, and is crowding the 60% mark from the field. But neither one can carry the team on a nightly basis and their teammates just don't provide enough support. Their inside players sport mediocre percentages, their perimeter players awful ones. Nobody outside of Nash can hit a three reliably. They run 9 deep but 7 of those 9 average below 10 ppg (with Gortat's 15 being the team high). I don't always believe everything that PER says but outside of Nash, Gortat, and Hakim Warrick the entire team is below 13 in John Hollinger's favorite metric, with 15 being the average. Rookie Markieff Morris is about the only reason to get excited outside of the obvious lead players. Other than that, this lineup is ranges between "blah" and "blech".
The Blazers simply need to remember the earlier debacle in Phoenix and take their revenge. If Portland gets even a bit physical they should take this game. They'll have no problem keeping somebody on Gortat. If they have to sink a couple people down on him it's not like Phoenix will kill you with their shooters. Phoenix needs help to win. Grab rebounds, keep the tempo up, and this game is Portland's.
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Blazers smash now.