First things first. This is a Thursday game, meaning it's on that network nationally, so expect not to see the first six minutes of it if you're stuck watching Chuck, Kenny, and Ernie analyze Eastern Conference ball.
A Look at the Suns
This is another team that we've played twice already in the first couple months of the season. You know the story so far. Amare Stoudemire manhandled us in the first game. Shaquille O'Neal manhandled us and then some in the second game. We never looked like we were going to win either. Those games were both on the road, however. Now the Suns have to come here. That's not guaranteed to change the outcome, but one common factor between the games was a general despondence, especially among our big men. We slunk away from their yard. Having the fight in our yard will make that harder.
The Suns come in with a 15-10 record, winners of 4 out of their last 5. They've recovered their scoring touch in that stretch, registering a low of 106 against Utah and reaching a high of 125 (behind Shaq's 35) against the Bucks. Amare Stoudemire has been destroying opponents on the boards. They've gotten scoring from everyone, including newcomer Jason Richardson who had 21 and 16 in their last two outings. Steve Nash has also scored 21 in each of the last two games...games which also saw season highs in shot attempts for him. In other words, the Suns have found life again. That's bad news for Portland.
Phoenix remains a spectacular shooting team. They are good rebounders and average defenders. They have trouble taking care of the ball and giving up extra shots to opponents. They seldom panic and they have the firepower to work their way out of just about any jam. They also consider the Blazers their whipping boys right now. Portland will need to change that perception with hard fighting throughout the game.
Keys to the Game
1. Keep their bigs from dominating the boards and the offensive paint. Shaq and Amare are a handful. You won't be shoving them around. You have to come up with more energy and drive than they have. You also need to run them around the floor when they're defending. There's not much chance Greg Oden can do that but Lamarcus Aldridge might be able to. As far as Greg goes, he has to stare Shaq in the eye and growl. Getting him rolling early would be a big bonus in this game for Portland. Seeing him wilt like a frost-covered tomato plant would make winning this game difficult.
2. All of a sudden that backcourt is a problem too. Richardson loves to run and gun. Nash loves the pick and roll and can score with less daylight than an Alaskan winter. The Phoenix bigs can insure a win for them but the guards could make it a rout. You don't worry about being able to score against Nash and Richardson, you worry about them pouring in 20 each without having to try. Again making them expend energy on defense will be important. You also have to keep Richardson out of transition and never, ever go behind a pick against Nash.
3. One result of the Richardson trade is that it made them somewhat thinner on the bench. That means second unit blitzing.
4. That also means drawing fouls when you can. Winning the free throw battle would make this game much easier.
5. If we take threes we'd better hit them tonight. Otherwise the Suns may just run away with the game. Steve Blake and Rudy Fernandez I'm talking to you.
6. Do you sense the theme of constant energy?
We honored Terry Porter on Tuesday. Let's beat the tar out of him tonight.
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