Tomorrow night, one of the most important games of the year will be played in Portland, OR at the Moda Center. The Portland Trail Blazers (49-27) will host the Phoenix Suns (44-31) for the fourth and final time. Both teams are in the midst of a very heated Western Conference playoff race. The Trail Blazers currently sit in fifth place while the Suns are one of three teams tied for seventh.
The Trail Blazers are jockeying for playoff position and improved their position without setting foot on a court last night. Portland was able to distance itself from the teams below them as the Warriors, Grizzlies, and Suns all lost. They were also able to close the gap on fourth place (and homecourt advantage) as the Rockets lost to the Raptors (103-107). With only six games left, it seems like the Trail Blazers will be up against the Rockets in the first round. However, home-court advantage sits in their grasp and should be their number one priority. A simple dissection of their overall record shows that the Trail Blazers are 27-9 at home, while going 22-18 on the road.
Sitting on a four-game winning streak, the Trail Blazers face a much improved and resilient Suns team. The home team has won each of the three previous meetings this season. Led by Goran Dragic’s 31 points and 10 assists, the Suns secured a 120-106 victory over the Trail Blazers in November. It’s been awhile since they have played and both teams are much different than their early season selves.
After the return of LaMarcus Aldridge and a complete focus realignment, the Trail Blazers look the best they have all year. The Suns have not reached the playoffs since the 2009-2010 season, where they lost the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. This Suns team is different from past teams and they have found a gem in Dragic. Tomorrow night’s game will be a battle and one that will be very entertaining.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- Joel Freeland is the lone player on this report as he continues to nurse a sprained MCL.
- Leandro Barbosa will not travel with the team to Portland for tomorrow’s game. He has ditched his cast on his hand for a brace, which is a sign of progress. Barbosa fractured his hand in early March and was given a 4-6 week timetable.
- Emeka Okafor will be out as he has not seen the court this entire season due to a herniated disk.
Keys To The Game
Damian Lillard vs. Goran Dragic. Lillard started last road trip with terrible focus and performance. He shot below 40 percent from the floor the first three games. Since the Trail Blazers win in Atlanta, which started their four-game winning streak, Lillard has shot at or over 40 percent in every game. Tuesday, Lillard became the first player in Trail Blazers history to hit 200 three-pointers in a season. Keep it up young man. Goran Dragic is a stud and entering this season I would have called him average. He has proven to be a very effective point guard and leader for the Suns. His point average is at an all-time high this season (20.4) and he has improved his two-point and three-point field goal percentage. This point guard duel will be the highlight as both look to score and push the pace.
Twinning. The Morris twins continue to be productive for the Suns. It’s rare to have brothers on the same team but even more rare to have twin brothers. Combined, they are averaging 22.2 points per game against the Trail Blazers this season. Markieff Morris is definitely the better of the two and had an impressive March. Markieff scored in double figures in all but two games in March and averaged 16.1 points and added 6.6 rebounds. Marcus Morris has also been playing well over the last two games. Marcus posted 15 points in L.A. on Sunday and followed it up with 16 points at home against the Clippers on Wednesday. Hopefully the Trail Blazers will be able to tell these two apart as I most certainly cannot. If they can guard both well a fifth straight win may be in the Trail Blazers future.
Assists. Tuesday in Los Angeles was assist euphoria for the Trail Blazers. Portland had four players with at least six assists and totaled 32 as a team. As Mike Tokito pointed out, ball movement has been huge in the Trail Blazers success this season. With 32 assists and 46.5 percent shooting on Tuesday, the Trail Blazers had an assist on 69.6 percent of their made baskets. That is an incredibly high result and one that must be copied and repeated during the remainder of the season. Focus has been shifted to the game at hand, defense, and assists. All three aspects are important and will help push the Trail Blazers to new heights.