Game 23 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Phoenix Suns

Blazers: 11-11

Suns: 11-11

Game Details: US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ. 6:00PM. 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 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)

This is kind of like a home-and-home back-to-back, and a little like a mini-playoff series. Although its unlikely that Portland and Phoenix will meet again when the playoffs roll around in 2010-11, it might be good for the Blazers to think about these games against the Suns as the playoffs. Portland and Phoenix are both at .500, and barring any major changes are probably going to be fighting for the final spots in the Western Conference playoffs. Portland has beaten Phoenix twice already this season. Holding that tie-breaker would be big. Winning on Friday gives Portland that. It’s a minor victory, but this season, minor victories are good.

The Blazers are coming off easily the most important three-game home stand in recent memory. Dropping six games in a row can change the course of a franchise, and winning three to break the losing mojo has thus far kept Portland from making wholesale changes. We’re not out of the woods yet, and Friday’s game kicks off an incredibly difficult road trip that includes a tough back-to-back with San Antonio and Memphis, and a match-up against Dallas. The Blazers are also smack in the middle of a stretch that includes nine games in 14 days. A few wins on this road trip, and we can officially say this ship is back on course. Another O-fer, and were back to where we were before Portland snapped off victories at home against the Clippers, these Suns, and the Orlando Magic.

The key to beating the Suns in the last meeting between these two teams was applying pressure to Steve Nash. Portland threw the whole team at the former MVP, and they were able to limit the damage he caused. Phoenix struggles to generate offense from the low post, and making guys like Hakim Warrick and Channing Frye beat you is probably a good tactic. Oh yeah, Jason Richardson scored only six points in Tuesday’s loss. Look for Richardson to have a big night. J Rich alone doesn’t spell doom for Portland, but if he goes off, the Blazers have to make sure that one of the other middle of the bench Suns doesn’t go off right with him.

The Blazers can beat Phoenix with Steve Nash and Jason Richardson scoring in the 20s, the equation changes if Richardson is in the neighborhood of the 40s, but they have to pay attention to guys like Jared Dudley, Grant Hill, and Goran Dragic. These guys are capable of putting up decent offensive numbers, and although they can’t win a game on their own, if they have big nights it might be too much for Portland to handle.

Portland grabbed at least two of their last three wins on pure heart, and have been pushed over the edge by guys coming back or being inserted in the lineup, providing an emotional spark. Andre Miller won’t be coming off a suspension, Patty Mills won’t have a “big” night, and Joel Przybilla has had his season debut. The Blazers are going to need to dig deep, play hard basketball, and work on executing their game plan if they want to stretch this three-game streak to four. If you want to look for positives coming in, there were plenty in Thursday’s victory over Orlando. The Magic are the best team that Portland has beaten thus far, and they did it by attacking the hoop. If the Blazers can match their 50 points in the paint against Phoenix they’ll win.

The Suns have lost their last two ball games, once to Portland and more recently to Memphis. Look for Phoenix to come out with energy, and try to knock the Blazers out early. The Blazers are 4-8 on the road. The best way to permanently erase the memory of the most recent road trip will be for Portland to go out a get a couple wins. There’s no better place to start than Friday in Phoenix.

Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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