Blazers: 5-1 (1st Northwest Division)
Suns: 2-4 (4th Pacific Division)
Game Details: US Airways Arena, Phoenix, AZ. 7:30 PM. TV: ESPN, CSNW. Radio: KXTG (750 AM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), 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 Jared Dudley (#3, 6’7”, Boston College), SF Grant Hill (#33, 6’8”, Duke), PF Channing Frye (#8, 6’11”, Arizona), C Marcin Gortat (#4, 6’11”, Lodz, Poland)
How’s everybody doing? I hope you haven’t taken a deep breath since last night’s big victory over the LA Lakers. I hope Portland hasn’t let all the adrenaline wear off. Here’s why, heading down to Phoenix on a Friday to play the first of two relative bunnies to close out a tough week in the first the month of want will be one of the most insane basketball season in the history of the Association is the literal definition of a trap game.
The Trail Blazers are the hottest thing on two legs right now in the basketball world. Charles Barkley and Steve Kerr love them. Tas Melas of the infinitely wise Basketball Jones crew (the Wu-Tang of b-ball bloggers) ran out of superlatives for the Blazers in today’s Overdose in his first breath. This is a good team (I think for this season I might change the name of this blog to This Is A Good Team because I feel like I say it at least twice in every piece). They are going to have a target on their heads from now on.
Phoenix is not a good team, and that is why this could be a trap game. Two years ago the Suns fell short of representing the West in the NBA Finals by two games, losing in six to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. That same year they beat Portland in what was the first of Brandon Roy’s historic Playoff comebacks. That team is not this team. They’ve given up Amar’e and Jason Richardson–Blazer killers both–Steve Nash is finally starting to get older, their role players have become starters and their bench has disappeared, they have to rely on Robin Lopez.
So why is this a trap game? Because Portland hasn’t done super well in Phoenix, Steve Nash is still Steve Nash–although he can’t win games all by himself–and this team might just take the night off, thinking that Cleveland will be a snore, and that their re-match with the Clippers in the Rose Garden is going to be the GAME OF THE SEASON (so far).
Here’s how Portland avoids the trap: don’t take the night off. If the Blazers play their game–their game being feed LaMarcus Aldridge early and let Gerald Wallace eat people–they should have no problem making this one a blowout. But going out expecting to get a blowout is also classic trap game material.
This could turn out to be a much bigger game than Portland wants it to be. Right now everybody in the league is salivating at the chance to be the guys that takes the league’s new darling down a peg or two. That is every team that isn’t in the middle of an early season crisis, which at this point seems to only be the Blazers, the Bulls, the Heat, and a couple others that have started to establish themselves as league leaders.
Here’s what I’m watching for:
- Will Portland come out early and establish themselves: There isn’t a single guy on this Phoenix roster that I would take over a single guy on the Portland roster. Sorry, not even Steve Nash. I love his game, but as of the last two games, I a full fledged, Jason Quick-esque Raymond Felton supporter. He’s the guy to run this team. So Friday, Portland’s task will be to get out and dictate the pace and the style, and play their game. There is no better way to do that than get LA going right from the drop. Marcin Gortat is serviceable, but that’s it. Nobody else in a Suns jersey can defend LaMarcus. Portland should recognize that, and take advantage. I’m predicting LA gets at or around 30.
- Turnovers: Portland has taken care of the ball extremely well too nights in a row. Will they do it again. This isn’t a young team, and it isn’t an undisciplined team. There is no reason they should revert at any point against any team this season.
- Can they maintain their high from Thursday: If so they win going away. If not, Phoenix can stick around and maybe pull off a miracle.
- End of the bench guys: Nate McMillan has gone to a nine-man rotation in the last two games (getting very solid minutes from Craig Smith and Kurt Thomas) and Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams, and Chris Johnson haven’t smelled the court since game number two. The Blazer regulars should be gunning to get those guys into the game.
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