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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Phoenix Suns Preview

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The Blazers look to get back on track against the 4-20 Suns.

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NBA: Preseason-Phoenix Suns at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (13-11) vs. Phoenix Suns (4-20)

Thursday, December 6 - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: CJ McCollum (questionable)
Suns injuries: Devin Booker (out); T.J. Warren (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

The Portland Trail Blazers return to the Moda Center after a poor showing during their 2-game Texas road trip. The losses to Dallas and San Antonio are the latest in a stretch of poor play that extends back three weeks. The Blazers are 3-8 in their last 11 games and have seen their record fall from 10-3 in mid-November to 13-11.

The Phoenix Suns have lost six in a row themselves and are coming off a 122-105 loss to the Kings. Poor play isn’t a recent phenomenon for the Suns this season, who hold the NBA’s worst record and stand as an outlier in the otherwise crowded Western Conference where only 5.5 games separate the 1st and 14th placed teams.

What to watch for

  • Playing with urgency. The Blazers need to show up for this game. With only one win in their last seven games (a 3-point home victory over Orlando), Portland needs to come out active and aggressive on both ends of the floor. They haven’t been playing well enough to take the 4-20 Suns for granted. The Suns may have the worst record in the NBA, but they can still win if Portland doesn’t play with the urgency needed.
  • Who will score for the Suns? Phoenix’s top two scorers will miss this game. Devin Booker (23.5 points per game) is out with a hamstring injury and T.J. Warren (17.7 points per game) has missed the past three games with an ankle injury. In the three games both Booker and Warren have missed the Suns are scoring only 95.3 points per game and have been led in scoring by De’Anthony Melton, Richaun Holmes, and Deandre Ayton. The Blazers should consider this a great opportunity to get their defense (second worst in the league over the past 8 games) back on track.
  • The big man battle. Outside of Devin Booker, the Suns’ most important player is 2018 1st overall pick Deandre Ayton. The 7’1” 20-year-old is averaging 16 points and 10.2 rebounds per game while shooting 60 percent from the field—stats that are pretty comparable to Jusuf Nurkic’s 15 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Ayton has performed well against some of the top defensive centers in the league too. He scored 25 on 11-13 shooting against Andre Drummond and the Pistons last month and put up 24 on 12-13 shooting against Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies earlier this season. Nurkic will have his hands full keeping Ayton away from the hoop and off the boards. However, the rookie has struggled defensively so far (Drummond and Gasol both led their teams with 19 points in the aforementioned games).

What they’re saying

With Devin Booker out, those who follow the Suns are split on 2nd-round pick Elie Okobo, who has started in his place. Adam Maynes of Valley of the Suns argues that Okobo should continue to start at PG even after Booker returns:

The Phoenix Suns are still in need of a regular, reliable, quality point guard. They need someone who can take the pressure off of Devin Booker, move him back to his traditional shooting guard position, and run a more traditional offense.

Okobo’s start against the Sacramento Kings didn’t go as well as fans would have hoped, but it was hardly his fault that the Suns scored an abysmal 9 points total in the first quarter.

On the season though, he has had several decent games (he had 19 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals at the Clippers on November 28) that are worth seeing if they can be piled on one another and repeated enough to warrant a long-term starting role, even with the clunkers he will still sprinkle in here and there.

Dave King of Bright Side of the Sun takes the opposite position on Okobo:

If the Suns have learned anything — and it doesn’t appear they’ve learned much this season after ghosting their way to a 36-9 deficit in one quarter against the Kings — it’s that you simply cannot start Elie Okobo again any time soon.

In three starts, Okobo is shooting 33% from the floor and has dished just 8 assists total. Against any defensive effort, he picks up the dribble, looking for any outlet from 30 feet away from the hoop. And that’s only on offense. On defense, Okobo has lost his man nearly every time off a single pick, and doesn’t close out when he finally clears that last hurdle.

He just isn’t ready to play basketball against starters in this league, and really after only playing lead guard for a year in a second division French league, he should not be expected to.

In light of the trade rumors surrounding Trevor Ariza, Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic wonders what the Suns will do with him:

In explaining the rationale behind signing Arizona as a free agent, [Suns GM Ryan] McDonough compared it to Philadelphia paying J.J. Redick $23 million for a year last season.

“We thought Ariza would help us take a step from rebuilding to hopefully being playoff competitive and then we could build from there either with Ariza or with an elite free agent in the 2019 class,” McDonough said in an interview on ESPN’s “The Jump” last month.

The Suns right now are far from being playoff competitive.

Ariza shouldn’t shoulder the blame for that, but Phoenix might look to deal him for a point guard or another player who can help them take that next step.