Game preview: Suns host Trail Blazers in preseason home opener

Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Game time. Friday night. Suns vs Blazers. #NextStartsNow

When: Friday, October 12, 2012, 7:00 PM local time (10:00 EST)

Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ

Watch/Listen: TV: NBATV, Radio: 620 KTAR

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Team Bios:

Portland Trail Blazers 1-0 (preseason)

Out: Gerald Wallace (traded midseason), Marcus Camby (traded midseason), Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton and Kurt Thomas

In: J.J. Hickson (acquired midseason), Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland, Adam Morrison, Jared Jeffries, Sasha Pavlovic and wait for it..... Ronnie Price!

The Blazers have completely overhauled their roster this offseason with a decided slant towards an injection of youth (sound familiar?). In Portland's first preseason game LaMarcus Aldridge (26) was the "veteran" of a starting unit that included Wesley Matthews (25), Hickson (23), Nicolas Batum (23), and Lillard (22). The reserves are led by two young bigs, Leonard and Freeland, accompanied by veteran journeymen Morrison, Jeffries, Pavlovic and Price.

Aldridge and Lillard led the way in Portland's 93-75 win over the Lakers, with 14 points each. Lillard was particularly impressive in his rookie debut as he augmented his scoring output with seven assists and five rebounds. The Blazers starters played well as a group and Portland used a 16-4 third quarter run to separate themselves from Los Angeles. The Blazers' other lottery pick, Leonard, and Adam Morrison (yes, Adam Morrison) both made an impact off the bench.

The only bad thing about a game between the Lakers and the Blazers is that they both can't lose.

Phoenix Suns 0-1 (preseason)

Out: Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Robin Lopez and Michael Redd

In: Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, Wesley Johnson, Kendall Marshall and Jermaine O'Neal

Injured: Channing Frye (out indefinitely), Shannon Brown (Halloween eye)

The Suns also retooled over the summer by adding a mix of savvy veterans (Scola and O'Neal) to complement their own infusion of youth (with varying degrees of polish vs promise). The Suns only return five players from last season's roster so the preseason will be of paramount importance as the coaches assess the effectiveness of different rotations and evaluate battles for playing time and roster spots.

The Suns kicked off the preseason with a game in Sacramento against the Kings. The starters played effectively to start the game as the Suns ran off 30 first quarter points. Michael Beasley was the best player on the court for the Suns as he demonstrated an ability to distribute (team high five assists) and score (14 points). The bench chipped in as Wesley Johnson led the team with 18 points and Markieff continued his aggressive play from the summer league with 16 points and seven rebounds of his own. Overall, there were many positive takeaways from the game despite the fact that the Suns lost. To the Kings. Sacramento used a 14-2 fourth quarter run to salt the game away, but it was encouraging to see that a lineup headlined by Marshall, Morris and Johnson kept playing until the last whistle.

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What to watch for:

Dragic vs Lillard - This forecasts as a matchup we might get the pleasure of watching to for years to come. It would be an auspicious start to the head-to-head if Goran can give the rookie a proper introduction to the NBA.

Beasley & Johnson - Is the first game anomalous or an auger of a disturbing trend? Beasley and Johnson both played well in the first preseason game, but they combined for 21 shots from 18 feet out compared to only three from inside that mark. They shot at a high percentage, going 4-11 from three point range and 6-10 on shots between 18-21 feet, but there needs to be more balance in their games. Keep an eye on these two to see if they are attacking the basket or settling for jump shots in game two.

Trail Blazer front line - The Suns were vexed at times, six offensive rebounds during the decisive stretch in the fourth quarter, by the Kings size and length (despite only being -4 on the boards). The Blazers frontcourt of Leonard, Freeland and Aldridge (with Batum as a long three) is also slightly longer than the Suns. This will probably be an issue all year as Morris and Gortat may be the only above average rebounders on the team playing significant minutes and many teams have more length at the four and more seven footers than the Suns (one).

Pace - The Suns looked fluid at times, but I definitely wouldn't classify the speed of the game as frenetic. Although they scored 30 points in the first quarter, much of that was more to do with 57% shooting than the volume of plays. After repeated assertions that the team will push the pace, let's look to see if the Suns can make it north of 100 this game.

Bench - Telfair is expected to play, so it will be interesting to see what effect that has on a bench that was overmatched at times against the Kings. The Suns can't afford to perpetuate the leitmotif of the reserves squandering leads which has pervaded recent seasons. Brown is not expected to play, which mean more playing time for guys trying to make the roster, so the group tonight still won't be a finished product.

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