It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The Blazers are a team desperately in need of the All-Star Break and it showed last night. The majority of teams need the All-Star Break. Some enter into it differently; some play the best basketball of the season, some are finally turning the corner and others limp into it. You know how some teams limp into the All-Star Break? Well, Portland is dragging into the All-Star Break. Like a rabid dog just attacked our left leg type dragging. Last night was a tough loss to swallow and the reward is a trip to the desert and a game against the Phoenix Suns. The good news? As Coup pointed out at the end of his Thunder re-thoughts, the Suns like defense about as much as single girls love Valentine’s Day (not at all). The bad news? Well…they score. A lot. Like 110 a night. On average they give up 10 more points (107) than we score (97).
It’s tough to find positive things to write about going into this one. That Thunder game has left a nasty taste in my mouth. Like the morning after a bender and no matter how many times you brush your teeth your mouth doesn’t taste right. It doesn’t help that we’re traveling to Phoenix. That building has not been kind to the Blazers. The Suns have won 9 straight games over Portland in Phoenix and 15 of the last 17. The last victory coming on February 4th, 2004 when Zach Randolph and Damon Stoudamire both had double-doubles, and Wesley Person scored in double figures. And Vladmir Stepania played 15 minutes. Dating back even further, the Blazers are 15-34 in Phoenix since 1986 and 10-26 since the America West Arena/US Airways Center opened. Icky, right?
Also hurting the confidence…the Suns have won five straight. Just to show how wild the Western Conference is, a week ago the Suns were on the outside looking in of the playoff race. Now they are a game out of 4th place. A big reason for this surge? The return of Amare Stoudemire. In this five-game winning streak, Stoudemire is averaging 26 points, 10 rebounds, shooting 55% from the field and averaging a little under 10 free throw attempts a game. Now combine Amare playing well with the fact that the Suns are a nightmare matchup for the Blazers. They just have too many weapons. Nash (18 pts, 11 assists a game) in the pick and roll or driving at will? They have five guys shooting 40% or better from behind the arc (Dudley, Nash, Hill, Frye, Dragic) and Jason Richardson who has always been a Blazer killer dating back to his Golden State days. Portland’s defense is going ot be challenged in every single way.
Keys to the game
Score: Phoenix had lost 7 of 9 before this win streak, so they can be beat. But you can’t beat them if you can’t put the ball in the bucket. They are 8-0 when their opponent fails to score 100 or more. And that was something Portland struggled with mightily last night. Everyone (should) want to talk about the 22 turnovers, but Rudy Fernandez/Steve Blake/Martell Webster went 1-for-15 from the field. 14 of their shots were 3-pointers. A lot of them were open looks. If we can’t make shots in general we’ll get run out of the gym.
Energy: Last night, Portland came out flatter than Heidi Montag in 2001. There was no energy on defense or offense and it was just a complete mess. Luckily at home against a young team they managed to weather the storm. They won’t in Phoenix. The Suns can absolutely bury you if you have a lull.
Attack, attack, attack: The Blazers stagnate offensively when they just pass it around the perimeter, look up at the clock, see 7 seconds and go ‘OH CRAP WE GOTS TA SHOOT’. When they attack, good things happen. Andre Miller, Bayless, Aldridge, Batum…attack the basket. You can finish on Amare/Lopez. At the very least get to the line. Just don’t settle against a poor defensive team.
It’s hard to have a real positive outlook about this one. I marked this one as an L last week and definitely have it in permanent marker. This team has proved me wrong before, but just the vibe from last night combined with the Suns playing well and the fact that we always struggle in Phoenix…and yeah. This team has done some amazing things in the first half of the season to get us here. The heart, determination and grit of this team has been fun to watch. So… Let’s just get to the All-Star Break healthy.