Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:00PM. TV: KGW. Radio: 95.5 FM (KXTG)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6’2″, Utah), SG Brandon Roy (#7, 6’6″, Washington), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11”, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11”, UMass)
Projected Phoenix Starting Lineup: PG Steve Nash (#13, 6’3″, Santa Clara), SG Jason Richardson (#23, 6’6″, Michigan State), SF Grant Hill (#33, 6’8″, Duke), PF Hedo Turkoglu (#19, 6’10”, Turkey), C Robin Lopez (#15, 7’0″, Stanford)
For the second year in a row, the Trail Blazers will kick off the regular season at home against the team that eliminated them in the first round of the playoffs. And for the second year in a row, that opponent will be a dramatically different version than the one they met in the spring. Last year, the Blazers took care of business on opening night against a Houston Rockets team playing without Yao Ming (who missed the entire 2009-10 season recovering from foot surgery) and Ron Artest (who signed with the Lakers the previous summer); this year, their first test will come against the newly Amar’e Stoudemire-less Phoenix Suns.
The Suns are hoping that the newly-acquired Hedo Turkoglu and recently re-signed Channing Frye will fill the void left by Stoudemire at power forward. While the five-time All-Star’s prolific scoring will be tough to replace, the Suns are banking on Turkoglu to create mismatches and spread the floor. He should have a bounceback year offensively after his awful performance in Toronto last season, but he hasn’t spent a great deal of time defending the power forward position, and he’s never been a terrific defender as it is. A large part of his value with Orlando was in his ability to function as a point forward, but Phoenix still has one of the league’s elite point guards in Steve Nash, so it’s unclear where exactly Turkoglu’s game will fit. The Suns will also look to run more sets for center Robin Lopez, who dramatically improved as an offensive player last season. With all of that said, the Suns don’t figure to be anywhere near as successful as they were last season, where they advanced to the Western Conference Finals before being eliminated by the Lakers. They have a solid collection of role players at a variety of positions, but with Stoudemire gone, that likely will not be enough to contend in the ultra-competitive west.
It’s difficult to say how the Blazers will match up against the new-look Suns, but this is a game they should win. Portland’s starting lineup is essentially intact from last year, while Phoenix is still integrating several high-priced pieces that might not even fit into the puzzle, as well as figuring out how to compensate for the departure of their leading scorer. With Stoudemire out of the picture, LaMarcus Aldridge should get plenty of open looks, and the ability of Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews to defend multiple positions will create opportunities for mismatches with Phoenix’s wing players.
Some (though probably not all) of the Blazers’ burning questions from the offseason should be answered after this game. Saturday’s trade of Jerryd Bayless opens up the backup point guard minutes to some combination of Matthews, Armon Johnson, and Rudy Fernandez, so this will give us a chance to see whether Nate McMillan entrusts the second unit to one of those three or opts for more of a by-committee approach. Brandon Roy has struggled through most of the preseason, although that might just be a side effect of precautions taken to make sure his knee is 100 percent for the regular season. Additionally, look for Batum to become more proactive on the offensive end, as the team has been running more sets for him during preseason games. It should also become clear how the Blazers plan to fill the backup minutes at center behind Marcus Camby–do they move Aldridge over, or do they utilize new signee Fabricio Oberto for significant minutes? Most of these questions will be answered tonight, at least temporarily.