Game 21 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Phoenix Suns

Blazers: 9-11

Suns: 11-9

Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:00PM. TV: CSN. Radio: 95.5 FM (KXTG)

Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Patrick Mills (#8, 6′0″, St. Mary’s), SG Brandon Roy (#7, 6′6″, Washington), SF Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), 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 Channing Frye (#8, 6′11″, Arizona), C Earl Barron (#30, 7′0″, Memphis)

Tonight, the Patty Mills era begins.

Okay, so that’s obviously an overstatement, but the little-used second-year player will start at point guard tonight against the Suns as Andre Miller serves a one-game suspension for shoving Blake Griffin Sunday night. Mills has started seeing some of Armon Johnson’s backup point guard minutes lately, and has played reasonably well. This will be the first start of his pro career, and it will be something of a trial by fire. He will, of course, be matched up with Steve Nash, one of the top point guards in NBA history, who’s putting together another solid season and coming off a perfect night from the field against the Wizards.

The Blazers beat the Suns at home to open the 2010-11 season, but that was back in the “Portland can only execute in the fourth quarter” era that feels like ancient history at this point. Lately, the exact opposite has been true, and the Blazers are coming off their least-encouraging victory in recent memory, having led the Clippers by 22 at halftime only to let them back in and only lead by single digits most of the fourth quarter. And the Suns, while not elite, are a better team than the Clippers, one that will take advantage of anything Portland gives them. Jason Richardson is a known Blazer killer who will probably be the focus of much of Portland’s defensive attention. The absence of Miller to counter Nash could prove devastating, unless Mills and Johnson do things we haven’t yet known them to be capable of.

The Blazers could win this game, but don’t expect it to be a convincing one. These two teams have battled each other hard the last several years, and given the Blazers’ desperate need to turn their season around and the Suns’ determination to prove that they’re still contenders after losing Amar’e Stoudemire, this one has “ugly game with a lot of lead changes” written all over it. The Suns aren’t a great defensive team, so if the Blazers can make their shots in the second half, they should be fine. But lately, that seems like it’s been too much to ask of them. Failing that, um…petition David Stern to make games 24 minutes instead of 48? I don’t know.

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