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Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Preview

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The Blazers look to get back on track as they visit Talking Stick Resort Arena.

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NBA: Phoenix Suns at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (29-20) vs. Phoenix Suns (11-38)

Thursday, January 24 - 6:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (will play)
Suns injuries: T.J. Warren (out), Deandre Ayton (out), Richaun Holmes (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

Update: Lillard says he will play while the Suns’ Ayton and Holmes are both out for tonight’s game.

The Trail Blazers have a chance to improve their 9-13 road record when they face the Western Conference’s worst team in Phoenix. Thursday’s game will be the third and final game of a short road trip. Portland beat Utah on Monday to begin the trip before losing in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

The Suns are not good. Their 11-38 record is the worst among Western Conference teams. They have lost five in a row and 12 of their last 14 games, and T.J. Warren—their second leading scorer—will miss the game because of an ankle injury. This is a game Portland should win, but they also shouldn’t take a win for granted. Phoenix’s last victory was over the Denver Nuggets, so they are capable of beating good teams.

What to watch for

  • Getting out to a quick start. When these teams matched up in Portland last month the Blazers put the game away before it really got started when they jumped out to a 34-8 first quarter lead. The Suns have struggled to get started lately falling behind 38-19, 32-20, 39-26, and 32-27 after the first quarters of four of their past five games. Portland should look to start strong and not let the Suns hang around.
  • Phoenix getting chippy. It may be winter, but the temperature has been running hot for the Suns lately. Devin Booker got into a confrontation with Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng and was ejected on Tuesday. Booker appeared to tell Dieng (who was also ejected) to meet him in the tunnel as he was being escorted out. Booker also received one of Phoenix’s four technical fouls in Sunday’s game in Minnesota. Josh Jackson was ejected from last week’s game in Toronto after a Flagrant Foul. The Blazers have had some chippy moments in recent games as well. The young Suns may be frustrated by their losing season, but they need to channel their frustrations in a more positive direction.
  • A big Nurk game. Phoenix may be without its two best big men. First overall pick Deandre Ayton and backup Richaun Holmes have missed the last two games and are considered questionable for Thursday’s game. Dragan Bender, who has appeared in only 16 games this season, has gotten the start and remains the Suns’ only option at center. In the two games he started (both against the Timberwolves) Karl-Anthony Towns scored a combined 55 points and pulled down 30 boards (14 of them offensive rebounds). Bender, listed at 7’1” 225 lbs., doesn’t have the strength to keep Jusuf Nurkic out of the paint and off the boards. Veteran forward Ryan Anderson is the only other Sun above 6’8”, and he hasn’t played since early December.

What they’re saying

Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic wrote about how first-year coach Igor Kokoskov is establishing his credibility on a team of young players:

The Suns have 12 players under age 26. Kokoskov’s been starting three rookies, playing four total and his best player – Booker – just turned 22 last October.

Kokoskov recognizes the generation gap, has been willing to adapt, but isn’t planning to change who he is.

“You want to be part of the game, you’ve got to play the game,” he said. “You can call it old-school coaches, new-school coaches, but you have to understand this is a new generation. You have to know how to approach them, how to talk to them, how to coach them, how to teach them. It’s a completely new era. If you want to be around, you better accept it, but you also have to be yourself.”

Adam Maynes of Valley of the Suns criticized Suns owner Robert Sarver for not providing veteran leadership for Phoenix’s roster:

Sarver’s inability to acquire veteran star(s), a player or two who can take the pressure off of the young developing talent, forced Booker and others to try and carry their franchise, their teammates and their community, while also learning how to leave their schoolyard instincts behind them.

If a role player like Josh Jackson gets ejected for an immature act, it can be given a pass. But if the face of a franchise like Devin Booker acts out in an immature way, it can pull the entire franchise down around him.

Bright Side of the Sun’s Evan Sidery argues that Phoenix should try to make a trade for Mike Conley happen:

With another painful season over halfway through, the Suns are nearing a decade-long playoff drought. No progress in the win-loss column has been witnessed, even though they intentionally tanked for two seasons to accumulate more lottery balls. That means they need a shot of adrenaline, which Conley would provide in spades over this new competitive window of Suns basketball.

Opportunities don’t come around too often where you can get a point guard in his prime who can help advance a young core forward while also not hampering it’s long-term salary flexibility. That’s indeed the case with Conley, because his contract would expire the same summer Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges would be extension eligible.