Luke Babbitt will be thrust into a starting spot Monday night following a late scratch of Nicolas Batum. Photo courtest of The Classical (and Maddison Bond).

Game 62 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns

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Blazers: 28-33 (4th Northwest Division)

Suns: 31-29 (3rd Pacific Division)

Game Details: U.S. Airways Center Phoenix, AZ 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (750 AM)

Projected Blazer Starting Lineup: PG Jonny Flynn (#3, 6′, Syracuse), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5”, Marquette), SF Luke Babbitt (#8, 6’9”, Nevada-Reno), PF J.J. Hickson (#21, 6’9”, North Carolina State), C Joel Przybilla (#10, 7’1”, Minnesota)

Projected Suns Starting Lineup: PG Steve Nash (#13, 6’3”, Santa Clara), SG Shannon Brown (#26, 6’4” Michigan State), SF Jared Dudley (#3, 6’7”, Boston College), PF Channing Frye (#8, 6’11”, Arizona), C Marcin Gortat (#4, 6’11”, Rhein Energie Cologne, Poland)

The Blazers are in shut down mode. Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford were notified prior to this two-game roadie that they would each be DNP-CD’ed for a game. Jamal’s was Sunday, Raymond’s will be Monday when Portland takes on the Phoenix Suns.

The shut downs go further than just the back court. Nicolas Batum, it is being reported, has been scratched due to tendonitis (the diagnosis by media is tendonitis in the quad, however I believe it’s much more likely that it’s tendonitis in the knee since tendonitis.net seems to imply that tendonitis happens primarily in joints), giving Luke Babbitt his first professional start.

Monday is certainly a must-win for Phoenix, since they were beaten handily by the San Antonio Spurs their last time out and they now sit a full game behind Houston for the West’s final Playoff spot with six games remaining including Monday’s.

Who knows what it means for Portland. Four a half games out with five to play hasn’t given the Blazers the circle of doom on NBA.com’s standings, but they will be the next team to fall unless Utah, Phoenix, and Houston all have simultaneous historical meltdowns.

Sunday afternoon and evening in California’s capital city the Blazers proved that their second-unit guys can hang with a bad team long enough to lose. Monday might be more of the same (although Phoenix is a much better team than Sacramento). It very easily could also be a lesson in stratification for Portland’s end of the bench guys getting starter minutes.

Stratification in the sense that Jonny Flynn, Luke Babbitt, Hasheem Thabeet, and Nolan Smith will get a first hand lesson in what separates a team two games over .500 and a couple favorable outcomes from the Playoffs from a team now five games below .500 and headed for an early summer. That difference might not be much, but it’s definitely something. Portland could also win. But that’s unlikely. Or should I say that’s about as likely as Craig Smith getting 10 minutes of burn.

Playing Rhino 10 minutes will probably have no overall effect on the outcome Monday, I’m just saying that it’s something, like a victory, that’s possible but probably won’t happen.

Since this is the second night of a back-to-back, that’s basically all the insight I can come up with.

Here’s a couple of things to pay attention to:

  • Sebastian Telfair versus Nolan Smith: Jonny Flynn get the starting nod for Monday. I wouldn’t read into that too much, Nolan Smith will play (unless of course he too is injured). When Portland met Phoenix last, January 27th in Portland, Nolan got into it at the end of the game with Bassy. That game had become a blow out (Portland held Phoenix to nine points in the second quarter), and at the time these two teams looked destine for very different fates. Telfair, as we all know, was the once and never future point guard of the future for Portland. Nolan Smith might be headed down that same path (he’s under contract for next year and the safe bet is that he’ll finish his rookie contract as a Blazer), considering that many people are now saying that he might not be a point guard after all. Nolan versus Telfair round two might not be an epic battle, Monday night, but the always hot-headed Bassy will probably have some words for Nolan. Also, Smith, who hasn’t played particularly well recently, has been prone to hard fouls a couple of times. Could be interesting.
  • Portland shooting: Phoenix is going to play a lot like SacTown. Lots of shooting. The Blazers probably aren’t going to out-shoot the Suns, but if they want to stay close they are going to have to knock down some shots.
  • Luke Babbitt as a starter: Hopefully this is the next step in Luke’s development into the All-NBA talent we know he is. Hopefully he doesn’t get totally destroyed by Jared Dudley and have another crisis of confidence.

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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Tags: Blazers Luke Babbitt Suns

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