Jan. 6, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge (left) drives to the basket against Phoenix Suns center Channing Frye at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Trail Blazers 102-77. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Game 20 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Phoenix Suns

Blazers: 11-8 (4th Northwest Division)

Suns: 6-11 (4th Pacific Division)

Game Details: Rose Garden Arena, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. 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)

Arguably Portland’s worst game of the season came at the beginning of this month at the hands of the Suns in Phoenix. That evening, Steve Nash dipped into the fountain of youth, and absolutely destroyed the Blazers with his shooting, Jared Dudley and Grant Hill did what those two guys do when they are at their very best, and Markieff Morris, Hakim Warrick, and Shannon Brown killed Portland’s bench.

There’s no better way to get over that loss than by giving the Suns a taste of their own medicine. Unfortunately, a lot of the things Phoenix did right in their win, they can repeat at any time. This Suns squad isn’t great, not like teams in the past that were locks for the Playoffs every year, but they do have some guys that can get out and score. If Portland is to repeat some of their less desirable starts, there’s a chance Friday’s game is a repeat of what we’ve already seen.

The Blazers lost to Golden State in Oakland partly because they tried to win a shooting battle. Coach Nate McMillan preached pace at the start of the season, and although the team has tapered off remarkably since bombing out of the gate, they have still shown signs they want to run. But running on occasion does not a running team make.

The Suns have the best running point guard in the league, or at least the best running point guard in the league from 2004 to 2006, and they can get out and move. Portland shouldn’t try to stifle their own attempts at running, or try to play a grinder, but they need to establish their pace, and not try to run alongside Steve Nash and his cronies. That’s a contest they won’t win.

Portland has a distinct advantage inside. They should utilize it early and often. Gerald Wallace and LaMarcus Aldridge are going to get any look they want for the most part. The key is going to be finishing. Marcin Gortat is an alright shot blocker, but after him this group of Suns would rather forget about protecting the rim and leak out. LA should be able to dominate former front court mate Channing Frye; like always, there isn’t a single name on the Phoenix roster that can handle Crash one-on-one.

The Blazers earn a weekend off after Friday’s game, so there should be no reason to try and conserve energy. If this team has been inconsistent in one are more than any other, it’s been energy. I’m not saying this team is lazy, but there do seem to be nights when they start out a bit disinterested, or enter the third quarter a bit disinterested, and that leads to disaster. Intensity for 48 minutes from Portland, and they win this game.

Here’s what I watching for:

  • Bench play: Last time these two teams met, Phoenix had three guys score double figures off the bench. Portland had two guys get more than 10 and all their bench players scored, but ALL THEIR BENCH PLAYERS PLAYED. Not a good sign. Back on January 6th Craig Smith was still a spot minutes and garbage time guy, so the Rhino is a new wrinkle. Other than that, Portland’s bench is the same tonight as it was that night. The Blazers’ subs have to play better, and they have to play better defense. The Suns don’t have a great bench, but Shannon Brown can get hot, Hakim Warrick can dunk, Markieff Morris might be able to put another good one together, on any given night those guys can be a difference maker.
  • Can Portland beat up on a bad team: I’ll keep saying this pre-game until it happens. The Blazers haven’t had an easy run against sub .500 teams. They do fine to excellent against good teams (they’re one of three teams to beat the Thunder and the only team to win in Oklahoma City), but beating the bad teams is going to be a key when it comes down to Playoff seeding. Portland should be able to get a big lead against this team, and then blow these guys out. Whether or not they will remains to be seen.
  • Pace, pace, pace: If the Blazers try to get into a race with Phoenix, they’ll be in trouble. Portland has the personnel to get this team into a half court match-up and then take advantage of the Suns’ shortcomings. If the Blazers get the ball moving too much and lose control of the pace of this game, it’s going to be a long night.

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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Tags: Blazers Channing Frye Gerald Wallace Steve Nash Suns

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