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Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Preview

The Blazers travel to the Valley of the Sun to kick off 2024

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

The Portland Trail Blazers bounced back from their loss to the Spurs on Thursday to defeat them on Friday 134-128. Now they head out on a nearly two week road trip for seven very difficult games. The injury/sickness bug seems to biting again too which increases the difficulty level immensely. Better keep your expectations in check for a while.

The Phoenix Suns aren’t happy at all with their record, but their big three should all be available for the foreseeable future and optimism in Phoenix is rising. Their current homestand is being billed as nearly make-or-break, so it’s not likely the Blazers will catch the Suns sleeping. Phoenix opened their five game homestand with a 112-107 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday.

Portland Trail Blazers (8-21) at Phoenix Suns (4-25) - Monday, Jan. 1 - 6:00 p.m. Pacific

How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass

Trail Blazers injuries: Robert Williams III (out), Deandre Ayton (out), Anfernee Simons (out), Duop Reath (doubtful), Kris Murray (doubtful, Shaedon Sharpe (questionable), Toumani Camara (questionable)

Suns injuries: Nassir Little (out), Damion Lee (out), Kevin Durant (out), Josh Okogie (probable)

SBNation Affiliate: Bright Side of the Sun

Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions

LeftCoaster25:

The Suns are barely above .500 this season.

I expected them to be better.

What is holding them back?

Most Suns fans seem to point the finger at the fact that the “big three” of Durant, Book and Beal have only played four games together. Other fans point the finger at the bench. I’m largely with those other fans. The Suns bench is 26th in the NBA in scoring, 23rd in field goal percentage and dead last in three point percentage. Having their big three together more will almost certainly help, but building leads that the bench squanders isn’t a path for success.

azblaze:

We just asked if we think Ayton is an upgrade over Nurk and the answered seemed like a big... maybe? What do Sun’s fans think? Seems like a trade that might’ve worked out for both teams.

Generally most Suns fans seem delighted with Jusuf Nurkic. There are a few things going on that make look Nurkic look pretty good, at least for the moment. First he’s playing well. One might look at his stats and note that they aren’t that much different in Phoenix than when he played for the Blazers, but the truth is that he generally played pretty well in Portland too. In Portland he got a lot of criticism for what he wasn’t and perhaps not enough credit for what he was. There are certainly aspects to be argued over, but this is a case where Phoenix fans and Portland fans both wanted to see something a bit different, they are both getting it, and many if not most fans are reasonably happy with the results. Nurkic also looks pretty good in comparison to many of his teammates because he’s been reliable and consistent. The play behind him and elsewhere on the court has not been. The biggest reason Phoenix wanted Nurkic was to have someone who could matchup with Jokic and other extra-large big boys, and so far Phoenix hasn’t seen anything that makes them think that he can’t. I agree with azblaze, so far this trade has worked out reasonably well for both sides.

What To Watch For

  • Turnovers. Both of these teams have problems holding on to the ball. The Suns make 15.1 turnovers per game while the Blazers cough it up 15 times per game. That lands Portland in the 24th spot and Phoenix in the 26th spot in the NBA. On the other side, one of these teams is 2nd in steals, the other 26th. Who is in 2nd? Your Portland Trail Blazers. This is the most likely avenue for the Blazers to pull off the upset: out-hustle them, out-work them, be disruptive, get in passing lanes and get some easy baskets in transition off of turnovers.

What Others Are Saying

John Voita of Bright Side of the Sun writes that the Suns rotation has been changed to the detriment of former Blazer Drew Eubanks.

There was the challenge. Drew Eubanks and Jordan Goodwin simply were not getting it done. The second team unit, which you need to sustain leads, looked lost when either Kevin Durant or Devin Booker was not on the floor.

Frank Vogel had to adjust, and that adjustment was dipping into his two-way contract players in Udoka Azubuike and Saben Lee to provide some minutes.

The Suns’ season has been a disaster according to Tom Ziller on substack.

Phoenix is out of the play-in: No. 11 in a 15-team conference, a half-game behind the Warriors for No. 10, a game below .500 at 14-15 and riding a 3-game losing streak. They are 3-9 in their last 12 games, a stretch in which Booker has missed only one game and Durant has missed just two games (one of them a win). Jusuf Nurkic has been banged up; his absence in addition to that of Beal has highlighted Phoenix’s depth issues. It turns out that faring surprisingly well in the minimum contract market does not actually build depth.

Luke Duffy of Valley of the Suns says that the disappointing record so far means that this homestand is key.

Which makes the start of 2024 so important for the Suns, as they play their longest remaining homestand of the season to begin the year.

Starting on January 1st, the Suns will face the Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, L.A. Clippers, Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies. On the surface, that run of games is tough. But if the Suns are who they claim to be, then they will need to go 4-1 during this run of games, which would give them a record of 20-16 before they head on the road for three games.