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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Phoenix Suns Preview

Can the Blazers grab another win against the Suns?

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns will have a chance at revenge against the Portland Trail Blazers, as they are set to clash tonight.

Despite a loss in their previous matchup against the short-staffed Memphis Grizzlies, the Blazers remain the second seed in the Western Conference at 5-2 and are looking to get back in the win column. They remain undefeated on the road.

Meanwhile, Phoenix is up to their usual winning ways, now sitting atop the conference at 6-1. They are undefeated at home, boasting a pristine record of 5-0. Devin Booker is among the league leaders in first quarter points, at around nine a game. Overall, the Suns are clicking on all cylinders. They’ve been doing so even without the services of star center Deandre Ayton, who has missed time with an ankle injury. The Suns recently dialed in a victory against the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves.

These two foes have met already this season, with Portland coming out victorious. Damian Lillard scored 41 points in the overtime triumph. Lillard’s status for Friday’s game is still up in the air, as, for now, he remains listed as day-to-day. The Blazers, while .500 without their all-star point guard, could use his services, especially on offense.

Blazers vs. Suns – Friday, November 4 – 7:00 p.m. PT

How to Watch: Root Sports Plus, Bally Sports Arizona, NBA League Pass

Blazers Injuries: Damian Lillard (out), Gary Payton II (out), Olivier Saar (out), Trendon Watford (doubful), Anfernee Simons (questionable)

Suns Injuries: Jae Crowder (out), Deandre Ayton (probable), Torrey Craig (probable), Cameron Payne (probable), Ishmail Wainright (out)

SBN Affiliate: Bright Side of the Sun

The Matchup

  • Zones Catered to the Suns’ Big Men: The biggest X-Factor in this game, regardless if Lillard suits up or not, is the pick-and-roll play from the Suns. They are a different team without Ayton manning the middle. He makes opposing defenses pay with his patented shot making ability in the paint. The Suns are opting to go with Bismack Biyombo to start games, and are bringing Jock Landale off the bench for reinforcements. While Landale can space the floor, neither are a scare to do continuous damage inside. Therefore it would be wise for head coach Chauncey Billups to continue with his zone experimentation in spurts. Typically, Billups has gone to a 2-3, or a 2-1-2 when dealing with the pick-and-roll. But against a Phoenix team that loves to shoot from distance, catering the defense around the lack of big men presence would point to a 3-2 zone being more effective. If Ayton is to play however, the same applies.
  • Don’t Let the Offense Get Set: Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins made sure to face guard Anfernee Simons 94 feet throughout their Wednesday night matchup. This forced him to give up the ball and let other Blazers players set up the offense. A major catalyst for their three quarter lead, Portland committed ill-advised turnovers, and never caught a rhythm. Conversely, once coach Billups played monkey-see, monkey-do, and implemented a full court press, the Blazers were able to go on a massive run to make things interesting, before ultimately losing. When Phoenix gets set in the half court, they are a problem for all opponents. They are second in the association averaging 29.9 assists per game. Even without Jae Crowder – a proficient hockey assist guy in the NBA given the eye test – they are moving the rock with ease. Guarding Chris Paul the length of the court is a tall task, but taking some time off of the clock and forcing CP3 to get rid of the ball may translate to at least some ill-advised plays. The same goes the other way for Phoenix’s head coach Monty Williams and company.
  • Contain Devin Booker: It goes without saying, but Devin Booker brings the goods, especially early in games. While containing Chris Paul full court will do well to slow down the sets Monty Williams has drawn out, Paul himself is not enough of a volume scorer as he used to be to give pre-eminence to on defense. Cutting off Phoenix’s lone 20 point-per-game threat will force the Suns to generate offense elsewhere. We haven’t seen coach Billups implement too many double teams this season. Ja Morant was the first time we saw heavy trapping on a superstar player. The difference is, Morant is as elite a playmaker as there is in the NBA. Booker, not as much. There are ways within a zone defense to contain one specific player without tailing them like a bad driver. Just ask the 2018 Golden State Warriors when they went up against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals. Portland will have to find a way to do so, or it may spell trouble for them, and success for the home team.

What Others are Saying

Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian did not pull punches when outing the Blazers – cordially of course – for their turnover-prone play as of late:

The Blazers committed 20 during their 111-106 loss to the Grizzlies and had 19 in last week’s loss to Miami. Thanks to the shaky performances, Portland ranks 27th in the NBA in turnovers per game (16.6).

“That’s been a little bit of an issue for us, just turning the ball over,” Billups said. “It’s something that we’ll just keep watching, just keep talking about it.”

Several factors have contributed to the problem. First, the players are still getting to know each another. Unfamiliarity can lead to miscues. Also, Simons said, rule changes have been tough to adjust to.

“It’s hard because you’re used to playing a certain way and this year they are emphasizing a lot on travels,” Simons said. “So, you got to kind of adjust to it.”

Meanwhile, Shane Young of Forbes Magazine did much to hone in on, and laud Shaedon Sharpe:

It hasn’t taken long for Sharpe to become a crucial part of the rotation, impressing head coach Chauncey Billups and his teammates with how coachable and purely talented he is offensively.

Sharpe’s 56 points in 111 minutes equates to 18.6 on a per-36 minute rate, making him a spark plug off the bench. His usage rate (20.6%) is right in the sweet spot for what the Blazers need – someone to help keep the bench afloat to avoid droughts, but not someone that will hijack possessions from their hyper-efficient guards.

If Ayton misses more time on Friday, Phoenix will be in solid hands with Jock Landale off of their bench, and Benyam Kidane of Sporting News made sure to accentuate that:

Landale’s productivity in the minutes he’s received has been impressive. When you extrapolate them into per 36 numbers, it makes a solid case that we could be seeing even more of Landale on the floor as the season progresses, averaging 19.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per 36, according to NBA.com Stats.

With starting center Deandre Ayton currently sidelined with an ankle injury, Landale has become even more important for the Suns.