Game Details: US Airways Center, Phoenix AZ. 7:30 PM. TV: ESPN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6’2’’, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5’’, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’9’’, 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 Vince Carter (#25, 6’6″, North Carolina), SF Grant Hill (#33, 6’8″, Duke), PF Channing Frye (#8, 6’11″, Arizona), C Robin Lopez (#15, 7’0″, Stanford)
In the month or so since the last time the Blazers and Suns played each other, Phoenix has become a different team, and for the most part not in a good way. They were able to unload Hedo Turkoglu’s contract in a blockbuster trade with Orlando last month, but it involved downgrading at the two-guard from Jason Richardson to Vince Carter. Earlier in the season, the Suns were thought to maybe be in the Blazers/Rockets/Grizzlies tier of teams fighting for that last playoff seed in the west, but these days that doesn’t look so good. Add to that the fact that the Blazers have already beaten the Suns three times this season and need a bounceback game after this week’s losses to Miami and New York: this is a game Portland should win.
Portland’s major setback tonight is the potential absence of Wesley Matthews. He sprained his ankle in practice yesterday, and is a game-time decision for tonight. Given that tonight is the first night of yet another back-to-back (the Blazers return home tomorrow night to face the Nets), there’s a good chance Nate McMillan will play it safe and hold Wesley out tonight. The Blazers have a fairly easy rest of the month (the next time they face a team with a winning record is on the 27th against the Celtics), and it would look pretty stupid if they lost a bunch of those games because they were too reckless with the ankle of their second-biggest scoring option.
However, since he hasn’t officially been ruled out as of two hours before tipoff, I’ll assume he’s playing. Or at least, I hope he is, because although Carter is a shell of the player he was in years past, he’s a lot less likely to have a big scoring night with Matthews guarding him than he would be with Rudy Fernandez on him. Not to mention, if Fernandez gets the start, Portland’s bench is pretty thin outside of Patty Mills.
If Matthews plays, his minutes will likely be limited, which could be a chance for Nicolas Batum to have a big scoring night. There’s no reason LaMarcus Aldridge shouldn’t have a huge game–the names Channing Frye, Robin Lopez, Marcin Gortat, and Josh Childress don’t exactly strike fear into opponents’ hearts as paint defenders. He was tripped up by foul trouble Tuesday night against the Knicks, but, well, Amar’e Stoudemire doesn’t play for the Suns anymore.
The Suns’ best bet offensively is to hope that Channing Frye’s three-point shot is falling tonight–if he can take Aldridge out on the perimeter and limit his rebounding effectiveness, that limits the Blazers to the tandem of Marcus Camby (reliable as ever) and Joel Przybilla (still playing limited minutes) as major threats on the glass. Luckily, this isn’t exactly the Boston Celtics Portland is going up against, so if this game comes down to which team can limit the other’s scoring, I kind of like Portland’s chances.