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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Phoenix Suns Preview

After a week of wildly disappointing games, the Blazers come home to snowy Portland to face the Suns.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

If you could Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind away the memories of the last three games from Blazers fans’ heads, I’m sure we’d all be amendable. While Coach Chauncey Billups is rightfully beginning to get partial blame for a lack of preparedness and an overall lack of effort, culminating in a near-record 62-point loss to the Thunder the other day, the Blazers are back within the comfy confines of the Moda Center one day after Portland experienced record-breaking cold, wind, and frozen precipitation that at one point had knocked out power to nearly 200,000 households in the region.

A reset would be nice.

The Suns find themselves treading water in a season where they had title aspirations and have quickly learned that swapping one inconsistent center for another won’t solve all their problems. The Suns have dropped three of their last five, but HEY, they’re mostly healthy! And if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic, Phoenix has a +15.4 net rating when their big three of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal play together... and all three are available to play.

Whether coming home helps Portland find its dignity remains to be seen, but until we’re shown otherwise, it’s hard to do much before any Blazers game besides brace for the worst and hope for the best.

Portland Trail Blazers (10-28) vs. Phoenix Suns (20-18) - Sun. Jan. 14 - 6:00pm Pacific

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

Trail Blazers injuries: Ibou Badji, Deandre Ayton, Shaedon Sharpe, Jerami Grant, Malcolm Brogdon, Matisse Thybulle, Robert Williams III, Moses Brown (out)

Suns injuries: Damion Lee (out).

Suns SBN affiliate: Bright Side of the Sun

Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions

As has been Blazer’s Edge tradition since Portland saw a record-breaking 14.4 inches of snow in a single day back in 1943, we’re asking you all to toss some questions at us for the game previews! Look for posts just like this one the night before the game, and we’ll plan to pick one or two (or more!) every game and answer them as best we can.

From itisisaysme:

Will chauncey be there?

Yes. Chauncey Billups remains the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, so I suspect he will be at the game. On the sidelines. Coaching. Because he is the coach...

...but please ask again in a few weeks.

From kacee:

Ah, The luck of the draw (or draft)! Kevin Durant has had a fabulous career and is still producing fabulously at 29 pts/gm and 47% on 3’s. And this at age 35 after recovering from a serious knee injury. My question is how high will Durant rank on the all-time players’ ladder?

Durant’s legacy, for better or worse, will always be defined (at least in part) by his decision to join the team that just beat his in the playoffs: a team that was already stacked, had already won a title, and could only afford to add him because Steph Curry signed his contract when he had injury concerns and was dollar-for-dollar the most undervalued player in the game at the time.

Despite the scoring records, titles, Finals MVPs, and the fact that he’s clearly second behind LeBron James for players whose primes were in the 2010s, I find it hard to believe that he can crack the all-time Top 10 for most people... unless he wins a title in Phoenix AND does it as their best player or very close to it. In that case, and if his production continues on a gentle decline... maybe. Even then, he will “only” have three championships. As I’m writing and thinking this through, my guess is he will end somewhere around 15th with a bit of a recency bias bump, which hey, is PRETTY GOOD when you’re talking about the best players ever to play the game.

From SweetFA:

Did last game against the Twolfs save Chauncey’s job? The team could have rolled over in the last game of a long road trip, but Chauncey showed he could motivate the squad to perform by changing their plus/minus by 39!!! points in a one game span. Billups has that dawg in him, and it shows that he won’t let the team back down from a challenge.

A legendary improvement! When the doctors busted out the x-ray they definitely saw a canine staring back from Mr. Billups’ torso. Apologies for not being able to answer this question, because if the only reasons to make a coaching change were about “has the incumbent demonstrated they are good at coaching,” he would have been gone already.

From RedUniInLA:

Will Ayton be back on the court? This day to day stuff has to end soon, right?

I don’t know, but I haven’t seen a ton of discussion about it. All I know is that it’s never great when a center is out for an extended period of time without an acute injury they’re recovering from. Hopefully this is just out of an abundance of caution and not the result of him continuing to be in pain or something.

About the Opponent

Stephen PridGeon-Garner from Bright Side of the Sun summarized what worked well in Phoenix’s recent win over the Lakers, including the defense of Devin Booker:

I really enjoyed Devin Booker’s defensive activity, attention to detail, and decision-making. Teams are always receptive to the intensity and attention to detail emanating from their best players... Though he hasn’t been at this level of disruption and sharpness every game this season, we have seen him turn it up a few different notches, especially in last season’s playoffs. A different team context and their need for collective activity may task him with doing so more often than the previous rendition needed in the regular season. It’s all about sustaining now. There’s a clear path to this team establishing identity, and a large portion of it is simply compiling reps together against a multitude of opponent types.

Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic argues that the Suns’ somewhat-recently acquired guard Grayson Allen, who’s having a career year, could be trade fodder before the deadline:

He’s the first, and perhaps, the only player the Suns could move and get a wing in return who can, for starters, improve perimeter defense. Phoenix is 16th in defensive rating and has struggled to contain the ball on dribble penetration... Allen is in the final year of a two-year, $18.7 million deal and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2024. That appeals to a trade partner, but his play this season also makes Allen desirable. He’s having a career year in becoming the fifth starter with Booker, Durant, Beal and Nurkic. Allen is averaging a career-high 13.2 points and is just shy of the 50/40/90 club in shooting 49.5% from the field, 46.2% from 3 and 90% from the line.

Law Murray of The Athletic (subscription required) writes about the reasons behind why the Suns are barely above .500 despite having championship aspirations, including their inability to excel in the fourth quarter:

The offense dropping to dead last in the NBA in fourth quarters, despite being as high-powered as expected in the first three, is the far more surprising issue. The Suns are the league’s worst 3-point shooting team in fourth quarters, both in terms of attempts and percentage. They play at the league’s slowest pace in what amounts to the slowest period on average across the NBA, yet also give the ball away at will, ranking dead last in assist-turnover ratio. Injuries to members of the Suns’ Big 3 has played a factor — the trio of Booker, Durant and Beal has only played together in six of Phoenix’s 37 games. But Durant has played in each of the Suns’ worst fourth quarters, and Booker has been a part of most of them, too. And it’s not like the Big 3 have hit the ground running, either: The Suns have been outscored by 12 points in the limited minutes they’ve shared the floor in the game’s final frame.