Phoenix Suns (2-5) at Portland Trail Blazers
Nov. 8, 2016 | 7:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW | NBA League Pass
Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Festus Ezeli (out)
Suns injuries: None
SBN Affiliate: Bright Side of the Sun
The Portland Trail Blazers have finally put together back-to-back wins for the first time this season. It took a 42-point effort by Damian Lillard Friday against the Dallas Mavericks, followed by a career-best, 37-point outburst by CJ McCollum on Sunday against the Grizzlies, but the Blazers are now above .500 for the first time since the first game of the season. Tonight they will be taking on the Phoenix Suns who are only 2-5, but beat Portland in Phoenix last Wednesday with a 118-115 overtime win on a game winning three by Eric Bledsoe as time expired.
Offensively, the Suns are a tough team to stop. Their two starting wings, small forward TJ Warren and shooting guard Devin Booker, are both in the top 20 in the NBA in points per game. They are also just 23 and 20 years old, respectively. Booker is coming off back-to-back monster performances, scoring 38 points last Friday and 39 on Sunday, bringing his season average to 23 points per game. After starting the year shooting just 3-for-15 from 3-point land in his first four games, the second-year wing is 7-of-16 from deep in his last three. He is also 19-for-19 on free throws in his last two contests.
Warren is having a great start to his season, averaging 20 points per game after averaging just 11 last year. He is a big wing, measured at 6-foot-8, and although he is not a super athlete, he possesses an arsenal of different ways to score the ball. After being known as a suspect shooter in college and early in his NBA career, Warren how hits the three at a 40 percent rate and has sunk 83 percent of his free throws. His 3-point attempts are almost exclusively catch-and-shoot, and over half of his field goal attempts this season have come from outside 10 feet.
While the two young wings are the biggest threats offensively, the Suns still have two point guards who averaged close to 20 points per game last year in Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe. Both went down with season-ending injuries last season and are still finding their way back.
The Suns’ offense has been good, averaging 105.7 points per game - good for 10th best in the NBA. They’ve also grabbed the fourth most rebounds in the league at 48 per game, but it’s their defense that holds responsibility for their .285 winning percentage. Phoenix has given up over 110 points in every game this year except for the 106 points they gave up in a loss to Golden State. They give up an average of 113.3 points per game, most of any NBA team.
Keys to a Blazer Victory
Road Rage: Drive the ball with aggresion.
The Suns guard the 3-point shot well, allowing opponents to shoot only 32.9 percent, but their biggest weakness is their inability to contain the drive, and they consequently foul more than any other team in the NBA. Their 27.7 fouls per game leads the NBA by a wide margin and the 31.3 free throw attempts given to the opposition leads the NBA as well. In their overtime meeting last week, Portland got to the line 21 times. Every other Phoenix opponent this season has attempted a minimum of 26 fouls shots. The Blazers should look to put a little bit more pressure on the inexperienced Phoenix defense.
Bring on the Backups: The Bench Needs to Become a Factor.
Portland’s bench was supposed to be a huge strength this season after management threw millions of dollars at it this past summer. Instead, the Blazers reserves are averaging 6.5 points and five rebounds per game fewer than their counterparts from last season. Phoenix brings Brandon Knight and Alex Len off the bench, who are both starter-caliber players, but the production drops off a lot after those two. When the second units enter for both teams, Portland is too deep to be outplayed and needs to be able to gain an advantage.
The Key is Key: Protect the Paint.
In last Wednesday's matchup between these two, the Blazers were dominated down low, giving up 62 points to the Suns in the paint. Offensive rebounds played a role as Len, Warren and Tyson Chandler corralled 10 of their team’s 14 offensive boards. Those three make up one of only four trios in the NBA to each average two offensive rebounds per game. Portland needs to keep them off the glass and limit easy baskets in the key and especially in transition.
While it’s still early, the Blazers shouldn’t be dropping two games to this Suns team. Portland is better top-to-bottom this year, but has relied more on Lillard and McCollum this season than last. Going against the NBA's worst defense should be a good opportunity for the rest of the guys to get going.