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Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers preview

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The Blazers face off against the Suns for a third and final time this season. Phoenix won the last two games convincingly. Can Portland avoid the series sweep tonight in Phoenix?

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Portland Trail Blazers (9-14) vs Phoenix Suns (10-13)
Friday, December 11
Talking Stick Resort Arena | 6:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report
Chris Kaman (Questionable - ankle | Phoenix injury report: Markieff Morris (Questionable - sinus infection), Tyson Chandler (Questionable - hamstring)
SBN Affiliate: Bright Side of the Sun | Blazer's Edge Night 2016

The Portland Trail Blazers (9-14) finish up a four-game road trip tonight against the Phoenix Suns (10-13) at 6:30 pm PST.

The Blazers are coming off back to back losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers and need a win tonight to reach .500 for the road trip. The Suns defeated the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic in their last two outings, but are only 3-8 over the last 11 games.

Tonight's matchup will be the third and final meeting of the season for the Suns and Blazers. The Suns won the first two games in October by scores of 110-92 and 101-90. Portland was unable to control Phoenix's starting guards, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, in either game. The Suns' backcourt scored a combined 100 points on 68 shots. Lillard and McCollum managed 88, but they only shot 38 percent and Lillard added 12 turnovers

Recently the Suns have played in a number of close games to mixed results. Their last seven games have all been decided by five points or less; the Suns went 3-4 in those games. In all four losses, and one of the wins, Phoenix squandered leads of nine points or more. Last season the Suns lost a nearly unfathomable five games at the buzzer, so the recent blown leads have caused near panic levels of concern. Those worries have been slightly alleviated by close victories over Orlando (although they gave up a 10 point fourth quarter lead...again) and Chicago, but lingering questions about late-game execution may plague the team all season.

The Suns are fueled by a fast-paced offense that produces 105.6 points per game, third in the league. They get those points by keeping the pace high (102.13 possessions per 48 minutes, first overall), and scoring 15.9 fast break points per game (fifth overall). Phoenix generates transition opportunities with 9 steals and 16.5 opponent turnovers per game. They also shoot the three well, converting on 38.4 percent of attempts.

Outside of forcing turnovers, the Suns have struggled to stop the opposition at times. Opponents are averaging 105.2 points per game, and Phoenix's defensive rating is hovering around the middle of the pack. They have allowed 37.5 percent shooting from three, fifth worst in the NBA, and the second worst overall field goal percentage in the NBA at 46.7 percent. Notably, the Suns' defense has been hurt by the absence of Tyson Chandler, who has played only four minutes in the last nine games. Chandler's absence has left the suns with only one competent interior defender - Alex Len. Chandler has targeted tonight as a possible return date so the Suns may get a defensive boost.

Outside of the continued excellent play of Knight and Bledsoe, the best piece of news for the Suns so far this season has been the play of Jon Leuer and Len. The 26-year old Leuer has come out of nowhere to average 41.7 percent on threes and collect 5.3 rebounds per game in 19.5 minutes. He recently replaced the disgruntled Markieff Morris as the team's starting power forward. Len has slowly developed into a decent center for the Suns. In the last seven games he is averaging 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds, while also providing solid defense. He reached a personal peak against Orlando, scoring 20 and grabbing 14 rebounds - both career highs.

P.J. Tucker rounds out the starting lineup at small forward, but cedes significant time to T.J. Warren in most games. Tucker provides solid to good defense, but does little more than shoot corner threes on offense. Conversely, Warren has been a very competent scorer in his second season, averaging 11.1 points. He is Phoenix's primary scoring spark off the bench.

Devin Booker, Mirza Teletovic, and Ronnie Price round out Phoenix's rotation.

It is worth noting that the Suns have been getting more attention for their off-court news in the last week. Head Coach Jeff Hornacek recently benched Morris after weeks of poor play and poor effort. The Suns are trying to trade Morris, but the process has been complicated due to Morris' pending criminal charges in Arizona. (Feel free to insert "Should the Blazers take on his salary?" conversation here.) Phoenix also watched Suns legend Jerry Colangelo head to Philadelphia to act as the 76ers' Chairman of basketball operations this week. Colangelo served as GM, owner, and coach for the Suns. He was with the Suns from 1968-2004 and won Executive of the Year four times.

Keys to the game

Stop the Phoenix guards: Seriously, stop the Phoenix guards. If Knight and Bledsoe are allowed to do anything they want for a third time this season it will be a long night for the Blazers. They have been effective against Portland both by penetrating into the lane and running off screens for jumpers. Terry Stotts may need to play some unorthodox lineups (start Crabbe at shooting guard?) to keep them in check.

Keep the game close until the end: The Blazers have not been particularly impressive down the stretch of close games, but neither have the Suns. The Suns have let teams back into games all season in the fourth quarter - Portland needs to stay close enough to take advantage of that weakness. As the underdog, it should be considered "mission accomplished" if Portland can force Phoenix into a late-game toss-up situation.

Grind: Phoenix likes to run and they like to get steals. The Blazers can't fall victim to that trap. Portland must keep the game in the half-court and limit mistakes. Half-court possessions will also afford the Blazers more opportunities to take advantage of the recovering Chandler down low.

All-time series matchup

The Suns lead the all-time series 119-95. In Phoenix they lead 76-30.

The Suns have dominated the Blazers in recent years. Phoenix leads the series 21-4 since 2002.

In a nice piece of symmetry, on May 11, 1992 the Blazers beat the Suns in the last game ever played at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, aka: the "Madhouse on McDowell." Three years later the Suns beat the Blazers in the last game ever played at Portland's Memorial Coliseum.

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