Both teams are 1-0 and feeling good about their starts to the 2022-23 NBA campaign. While Portland scraped together a victory against an otherwise below average Sacramento Kings team, they will need to game plan much harder for this formidable foe.
Here’s what to look out for as the two teams face off.
Never Say Die
Firstly, the Suns recovered from a 22-point deficit with 10:09 to go in the third quarter, and a 13-point hole in the fourth, to win the game by two against a Dallas Mavericks team that absolutely decimated them in the Western Conference Semifinals last year, Phoenix proved that they have resilience, resolve under pressure, and that no lead is safe with them.
Picking on the Big Man
Deandre Ayton registered 18 points and 10 rebounds on Wednesday. In 2021-22, the Suns went 29-1 when Ayton recorded a double-double. Ayton started 58 games for Phoenix that season. All signs point to head coach Monty Williams featuring the Arizona product in a slew of pick-and-rolls.
It would be to the surprise of very few if head coach Chauncey Billups decides to go small in spurts. Chris Paul is one of the greatest pick-and-roll point guards in history, and Ayton off of the catch, inside the free throw line, is as lethal as they come among centers. Jusuf Nurkic struggles mightily against the offensive scheme on the switch and recovery.
Paul, Booker, and Cam Payne are all capable and very streaky from distance which means Nurkic won’t have the luxury of sitting on the pick or going under – something De’Aaron Fox surprisingly burned Rip City for in their opener.
Going a bit undersized for short stretches would allow Portland to switch on everything, disrupt passing lanes, recover off of the help defense, and turn stops into easy points in transition in a perfect world.
Instead, a pivotal key to the game for the Blazers will be winning the three-point battle. If anything could be learned from the playoffs in 2022, it’s that when you outgun Phoenix, you have a shot. Phoenix only won the three-point duel in one of their six losses in the entirety of the postseason. To make matters even more promising for the Blazers, they lost the distance duel in 14 of their 18 defeats in the 2022 regular season.
Booker Is a Handful
Lastly, containing Devin Booker in the first quarter will be instrumental in starting the game off the right way. He led the league in total 1st quarter points a season ago with 631, good for 9.3 points per game, and is right on pace this year with nine in his debut.
Booker gets scorching hot early, and can often put a team away before they even have a fighting chance. Josh Hart will see time guarding Booker alongside Anfernee Simons, and both will have a tall task in ensuring that Phoenix doesn’t blow the door open.
The Blazers and Suns face off at 7:00 PM Friday night at the Moda Center.