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Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Preview

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The Blazers travel to Phoenix to face the Suns in their 2017-18 season opener.

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NBA: Preseason-Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (0-0) at Phoenix Suns (0-0)

Wednesday, October 18th - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: CJ McCollum (suspension), Noah Vonleh (out), C.J. Wilcox (questionable), Zach Collins (out)
Suns injuries: Alex Len (out), T.J. Warren (probable), Alan Williams (out), Davon Reed (out), Brandon Knight (out), Jared Dudley (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Bright Side of the Sun

Injury updates:

The Blazers and the Suns kick off the 2017-18 regular season tonight at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. Portland went 3-1 against the Suns last year, losing only the first matchup on November 2 by three points in overtime.

The Blazers and Suns split two preseason games this year. In their second exhibition meeting last week, Trail Blazers rookie Caleb Swanigan and Suns big man Alex Len got in a shoving match which ended in double ejections. Because CJ McCollum left the bench during the scuffle—he never engaged and was pulled off the floor by Portland head athletic trainer Geoff Clark—he’s suspended for tonight’s contest.

What to watch for

  • Dame is Hot in the Desert. Damian Lillard averaged almost 34 points per game in four contests against the Suns last season, hitting roughly his season shooting percentages but getting to the line an average of 11 times a night to bolster his scoring. With CJ out, Lillard will certainly exceed 20 shots tonight and the young Suns could struggle to contain him again.
  • Suns Backcourt Will Score. Phoenix guards Devon Booker and Eric Bledsoe averaged a combined 48 points per game against the Blazers last year, with the latter nailing a staggering 54.5 percent of his shots from outside. Portland might be able to weather the storm from the talented Suns backcourt, but if ancillary players like T.J. Warren—and to a lesser extent, Marquese Chriss or Tyler Ulis—get going, the Blazers could be in for a long night.
  • Is There a Cure for Nurk Fever? By now, you know Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game on 50 percent shooting in Portland last year before getting injured. The Bosnian Beast has now been in town for eight months and is well acquainted with his teammates. Opposing center Tyson Chandler is no slouch, however, even at 35; he’s a four-time NBA All-Defensive Team member, NBA former Defensive Player of the year and played in the All-Star game just four years ago.
  • Chandler is also top-5 or better for active players in each of the following categories, according to Basketball-Reference: offensive/defensive/total rebounds, blocks, field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, offensive and defensive rating, and offensive and defensive win shares. This is a great matchup between the 23-year-old Nurkic and the crafty 17-year vet.

What they’re saying

Scott Bordrow from AZCentral.com speculates about the Suns improving their defense this year:

In 2016-17 Phoenix ranked last in the league in points allowed (113.3) and opponents’ 3-point shooting percentage (38.2) and 26th in opponents’ field-goal percentage (46.7).

It’s hard to win games that way.

Because Phoenix wants to play at a fast pace it’s going to give up more points per game than, say, the Memphis Grizzlies. But the Suns added what they hope will be an elite perimeter defender, [Josh] Jackson, and center Alex Len showed throughout the preseason that he can protect the rim as well as limit any second-chance buckets.

Bright Side of the Sun editor Evan Sidery reports on the Suns’ attempts at increasing their pace this year (and Tyler Ulis may have hit all the cliches in a response to reporters):

After six months without regular season basketball in the Valley, it will be back tomorrow night and we shall see if these Run-N-Gun Suns are legit. Even though many in and around Phoenix do not see immediate success coming, this team has full-on belief in themselves to be that league-wide surprise.

“I feel like we always have a dog mentality, we have a chip on our shoulder. We’re young,” Ulis said of this team’s overall mentality heading into Wednesday’s opener. “Guys don’t think we can win, so we’ll come out and prove everybody wrong. Just make sure to punch everyone in the mouth first.”