Suns Down Blazers With Hustle, Passing, Interior Defense

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Phoenix outplays Portland in nearly every aspect of the game until the fourth period but the Blazers die by the sword, falling just short in their customary comeback attempt.

The Portland Trail Blazers' M.O. this season is spotting the opponent a 12-20 point lead then coming back in the second half to escape with a miracle win. They executed that game plan (*cough*) to a "T" tonight, allowing the Suns the first dozen points of the game, trailing by 12 with but 4:00 gone in the first. The Suns looked like they had something to prove. The Blazers looked like they were still on vacation. The offense was disjointed to the point of being spastic. Defenders waved at players like they were auditioning for Rose Festival Princess instead of the playoffs. The Suns began the game by canning their usual mid-range shots but as the quarter waned they worked farther inside, scoring at the rim. This made a bad situation worse for the Blazers. When the dust cleared Phoenix owned a 36-23 lead.

Reality Check: Suns point guard Goran Dragic had 10 assists after the first period. His season high to that point was 14.

Portland made a mini-run in the second quarter behind aggressive offensive rebounding and a few forced turnovers. But the Suns put it out like an annoying brush fire. Phoenix ended the half up 63-47. They shot 60% in the first two quarters, owned a 27-15 rebounding lead, and their bench outscored Portland's 24-4 on a night when plenty of bench players were playing. Ugh.

The Blazers began to make their run in the third, finally getting inside scoring while Phoenix drifted further outside. The Suns aren't good with the outside jumper. Portland was good enough to chip 5 points off of the 16-point lead, leaving themselves 11 to make up in the fourth.

LaMarcus Aldridge went crazy in the fourth period, racking up 11 points in the final 12 minutes. He slowed down noticeably at the defensive end, though, as Phoenix's bigs kept them in the game with offensive rebound taps and the occasional dunk or put-back. Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum hit a couple of threes to make it interesting but the Blazers never could get over the hump. It was a case of "one too many". One too many offensive rebounds given up, one too many free throws missed, one too many blown defensive assignments, one too many bench guys shooting important shots all added up to a 102-98 loss.

Let's give Phoenix some credit here. They played an energetic, focused game while the Blazers went all over the map. The most impressive part of the Suns evening was the interior defense. They were locked onto anybody who came in the lane and Portland never shot well enough from the arc to bring them out of it. The Blazers probably shot more looping, ugly four-footers tonight than they do in a normal month of play. Phoenix also beat the Blazers down the floor repeatedly, earning a 15-4 advantage in fast break points. The Suns outrebounded the Blazers 51-37, beat them on the offensive boards, shot 50%, garnered 30 assists on 41 made shots. In order to overcome that the Blazers would have had to shoot incredibly well or get up a ton more shots than the Suns did. Neither happened.

Oh. And those bench points? The final tally was Phoenix 40, Portland 7. The Blazer bench guys played a robust 58 minutes combined too.

The biggest take-away from this game is something we don't mention often enough. The Blazers actually got some decent movement in the offense, particularly early in the game. It ended in disaster because they haven't learned the lesson that movement without good screens equals movement without purpose. Put this on your trade/free agent wish list: a guy who can set them.

Individual Notes

There really isn't much new to comment on tonight individually. We'll hit the highlights.

LaMarcus Aldridge had that great fourth period offensively and ended the game with 23 points but he got only 5 rebounds on a night when the Blazers really needed help against the Phoenix bigs.

J.J. Hickson was the only guy keeping the Blazers afloat in those horrid early periods. The rest of the Blazers are show dogs...they look nice and are great in their element. Hickson is the stray who's just going to jump around, run somewhere, and maybe bite somebody no matter what the environment. Dude had 25 points and 16 rebounds. Again, the Phoenix bigs made hay tonight but it's not J.J.'s fault that he's not 7-foot.

Damian Lillard scored 24 with 7 assists but Dragic used him up tonight on the other end. Also Lillard spent the better part of three quarters trying to solve Phoenix's pressure on him (which came early and often). His second half saved him from a rough night. With a couple of notable exceptions his drives resembled THIS, as the Suns knew just what to do when he put the ball on the floor.

Victor Claver did a few nice things and he might be a nice player someday but boy, he does not belong starting right now.

Nolan Smith laid an egg...check that, laid an omelette on the offensive end but he switched over to Dragic in the second half and actually did a good job of hounding him. Plus he grabbed a few rebounds. Props to him for making something happen.

Will Barton had a couple steals in 7 minutes but went all "Crazy Will" on offense. If the shots had fallen he would have looked like a genius but 1-4 speaks volumes about how well it worked. But hey, at least he was getting something off the dribble.

And that's it. Another loss to a team that shouldn't be lost to. Sigh. But hey, the Blazers face the Lakers on Friday. It's in L.A., but still... Maybe that'll end up better? Or not.

Boxscore

Bright Side Of The Sun will be bright and sunny about this result.

Timmay's Instant Recap (just add tears)

Portland Trail Blazers tickets


Heads up that we have about a month to purchase the rest of the 700 or so tickets we're giving away to underprivileged kids for Blazer's Edge Night, April 17th versus the Warriors. You can help by purchasing a ticket or two to donate. It's easier than ever this year. Simply CLICK HERE for details.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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