Phoenix Suns (22-54) at Portland Trail Blazers (37-38)
April 1, 2017, 7:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (out), Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Suns injuries: Leandro Barbosa (questionable), Brandon Knight (out), Eric Bledsoe (out), Dragan Bender (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: Bright Side Of The Sun
The Trail Blazers look to extend their current win streak to six games, but they will be forced to do so without Jusuf Nurkic. Amassing a solid 14-6 record since the addition of the Bosnian center, Portland must now find a way to stay in front of Denver in the standings without him. Luckily for the Blazers, the Suns have been enduring their own form of misery, losing 10 consecutive games entering tonight’s contest.
Phoenix’s main objective appears to be bettering their odds of securing a top selection in the upcoming NBA Draft. This has led to the Suns rolling-out some of the youngest lineup combinations that the league has ever seen. Devin Booker—only 20 years old—leads the way, only slightly removed from his 70-point outburst against the Celtics in late-March.
Booker managed to score 28 points in his last meeting with Portland, and he did so without attempting a single 3-point shot. With Evan Turner now healthy for the Blazers, expect the scrappy wing defender to be tasked with frustrating Booker throughout the night.
Tyler Ulis joins Booker in the backcourt, giving the Suns an early look at what the tandem might bring to the table in the years to come. Ulis relies on his quickness to create offense, as his shot from beyond the arc is basically non-exsistant. If Portland doesn’t plan for him accordingly, the former Kentucky standout could record his third straight double-double.
Outside of Booker and Ulis, the guard rotation for the Suns is lacking legitimate options for the future. The frontcourt poses a different problem for Phoenix, as they have several young players still needing adequate minutes to develop. Marquese Chriss is getting a lengthy audition down the stretch, but his minutes could see a slight decrease once Dragan Bender returns to the lineup. On top of the rookie big men, Phoenix will likely want to take an extended look at Alex Len before making a decision with regard to his restricted free agency this summer.
Frontcourt depth is something the Blazers will be in desperate need of for the rest of the season. With three centers already listed on the injury report, Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh will have to carry the load in the post.
Leonard is dealing with injury issues of his own, limiting him to just 13.4 minutes per game in the month of March. Vonleh’s improvements over the last several weeks should give the Blazers hope, and he will be on the receiving end of even more minutes from coach Terry Stotts in the final six games of the regular season.
The Blazers have dealt with injury setbacks all season, but they will have to recover quickly to keep their postseason hopes alive. A home matchup against a Phoenix team with the third-worst record in the NBA is exactly what Portland needs. Winning cures everything, and the Blazers could certainly use a win right about now.