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Apr. 16, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Shannon Brown (26) handles the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews (2) during the first half at the US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

Pre-Season Game Preview: Blazers vs. Suns

Trail Blazers Starting Lineup: 
Pos.- Player (College, 2011-2012 Stats)

PG- Damian Lillard (Weber State: 24.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.5 spg)
SG- Wesley Matthews (Marquette: 13.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.5 spg, .383 3pt)
SF- Nicolas Batum (MSB LE MANS: 13.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 1.0 spg, .391 3pt)
PF- LaMarcus Aldridge (Texas: 21.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 0.9 spg, 0.8 bpg)
C- J.J. Hickon (NC State: 8.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg)

Phoenix Suns:

PG- Goran Dragic (Yugoslavia: 11.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 1.3 spg)
SG- Wesley Johnson (Syracuse: 6.0 ppg)
SF- Michael Beasley (Kansas State: 11.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, .376 3pt)
PF- Luis Scola (Argentina: 15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
C- Marcin Gortat (Poland: 15.4 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.5 bpg)

Portland enters their second pre-season game coming off of a victory over the L.A. Lakers Wednesday night. Phoenix, on the other hand, took a loss to the Kings and are still getting used to life after Steve Nash.

Key Matchups:

Lillard v. Dragic: After getting settled and shaking the nerves off, Lillard began to realize that he could take Steve Nash off the dribble whenever he wanted. I remember him coming up the court, hitting a strong hesitation dribble before nailing a pull-up jumper in transition. That very play illustrated how high the ceiling is for Portland’s PG of the future.

Dragic is very much like Nash. He’s crafty, a great passer and tries to limit his mistakes to a minimum. Dragic is also a bit quicker than Nash, so seeing how Lillard will respond is a big part to the puzzle.

Batum v. Beasley: Though he may be “underachieving” in the NBA, Michael Beasley is still a great talent on all ends of the floor. This is a perfect chance for Batum to work taking his man off the dribble and creating space to get that deadly jumper off.

Aldridge v. Gortat: I fully expect the Suns to switch between Scola and Gortat in the low post against Aldridge. And while we all know L.A. can get his hook shot over Scola any time, Gortat is a little different in his approach to the defensive end. Gortat is a master shot blocker and an top tier inside presence, and if L.A. wants to take that next step into possibly the Top 15 players in the NBA (ESPN has him ranked No. 20), scoring on guys like Gortat consistently is a must.

As a friendly reminder, this is still pre-season basketball. Stotts is still getting a feel for his players and how they mesh with one another, so don’t be heart-broken if the Blazers happen to take an (unlikely) loss tonight.

I doubt L.A. will play many minutes; no starters should.

Things to Watch For

  • I really want to see if Adam Morrison can turn the clock back to his Gonzaga days and start drilling threes like his old self. It’s probably not going to happen, but it would be a huge benefit if the Blazers got another three-point shooter on the roster.
  • I also didn’t watch too much of the game on Wednesday, so I want to see how Meyers Leonard is going to play against a solid defender. If he can become a DeAndre Jordan-type player for the Blazers, that would be good enough to crack the starting rotation.
  • Michael Beasley’s finally found a new home. This could be the fresh start that he needs to jump-start his career. Let’s see how he and Nic Batum take each other on tonight.
  • Jared Jeffries tied w. LaMarcus Aldrige with a plus/minus of +15. He’s a very solid defender and was a big part of the Knicks turning their season around. How big of an impact can he have on this youth defense movement with the Blazers?

@BriscoXCI | [email protected]

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Tags: NBA General Portland Trail Blazers Pre-season

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