Finally, it will actually mean something if the Suns get blown out. Or, we can breathe a little easier if the Suns fight and claw to a win.
I'm pretty sure tonight's game against Portland is going to be ugly. Portland will be geeked up and Brandon Roy will try hard to erase the disappointment of his injury during last year's playoffs - a decisive series loss in 6 games to the Suns. Look for Portland to try to bully the Suns and win the rebound battle by at least 10. They are bigger, stronger and thicker.
Plus, the Suns are playing tentative - a recipe for disaster in a small team. The Suns best chance to win tonight is to BE...AGGRESSIVE! BE-BE...AGGRESSIVE! If the Suns play hard and aggressive throughout the game, then they can stay in this thing and maybe even pull out a win. But that has to come from the whole team - not just one guy. Everyone needs to step up.
Follow the jump for more on the game and links to other game previews.
Update: Looks like Childress is playing tonight
This might be an understatement, but this Suns team has so far looked very different than the one in last year's playoffs series against Portland.
But that's not all bad.
For one thing, the Suns have Robin Lopez in the middle this year. Remember last year's starting center in the playoffs? Jarron Collins. Yes folks - recall with fondness that we beat Portland like a drum with Jarron freaking Collins at center.
For another, the Suns will have a healthy Steve Nash. In the series clincher - game 6 at Portland - Nash was so banged up that he had 7 turnovers in the first quarter alone. Remember that? Goran Dragic played a great game though, and the rest of the team picked up the slack.
For a third, Portland won't be quite sure how to guard the Suns, since the Suns don't know exactly where their offense is coming from either. Both teams can agree on one thing: Jason Richardson. He was the scoring star of that series and figures to be the Suns' scoring star this year as well. But beyond that, who knows?
If there's any value to preseason, it's that the Suns didn't give away any secrets. No one in the NBA knows that the Suns will do this season, least of all the Suns themselves.
Will Hedo find his shooting stroke and aggression? The Suns need Hedo to be a threat, and the only way he can do that is by getting aggressive. Go down swinging and playmaking and jiving, Hedo. Get that swagger! Get Portland's front line back on their heels, into a bit of foul trouble. Initiate some pick-n-roll with Lopez. Hit some damn shots!
Speaking of shots...
Will the team make any 3-pointers? I couldn't believe how many open 3s the Suns missed in preseason. Seems like all the best 3-pt shooters on the team spent the summer working on their midrange game. J-Rich is pump-faking and driving to the hoop. Dudley worked on the 1-2 dribble pullup, after pump-faking off the 3-pt line. Uh, that's great and all but don't forget about taking and making the 3s when they're open, okay?
Speaking of 3-point shooters...
And then there's Channing Frye. All summer, we've talked about Frye adding more big-man skills to his game. Post-ups, drives to the basket, midrange. That's great and all, but you can't keep missing your 3s all season, buddy. That's your bread and butter. That's what you were paid to do: spread the defense, pull the big man out of the paint and force him to play in space, and then make the open shots! All the rest is jelly.
Will Robin score 20 points by halftime? He's a wildcard. When he's on and feeling good, he can light it up when the defense isn't planning on it. Rolling, stopping and popping, putbacks. The next step in his maturation is countering a defense that's prepared for him. But until then, until the league knows what he can do, Robin should put up some nice numbers. And then there's his defense. He can defend the paint like no one else on the team. Portland could be very surprised by his improvements.
Will Nash and Hill carry this team to some wins, despite shaky team performance? We don't know what will happen this year in regards to those two. Hill is "at peace" and Nash is not exactly optimistic about the season. It's quite possible the Suns lose a lot of early-season games if Nash and Hill decline with father time. Based on preseason, they don't look spry. Yet hopefully they were just saving themselves for the real season.
Will the Suns play more aggressive/pesky on defense? For the past couple of years, the Suns have played a very reactionary, passive defense. They've shaded the paint and dared teams to win on jump shots. They were nearly last in the league in steals. This year's team might be more aggressive - they are certainly talking in those terms. WIll that start tonight, or wait until Childress is 100% again?
Some of these questions will be answered by bedtime, though the answers could keep changing on a game-by-game basis.
The biggest task is learning to trust each other, which will foster aggressive instinctual play. Until then, we'll see a too-tentative team wandering around unsure what they are doing.
There is one thing we know for sure: tonight's Suns will look little like the team that played Portland last year.
Is that a good thing? Later in the season, maybe yes. But for now, likely not.
If the Suns win, it will be thanks to scrappy, hard-working play.
Oh yeah, the opponent...
I should probably write something about Portland to get you ready to watch them.
Most prognosticators are once again expecting Portland to earn home court advantage in the playoffs, meaning a top-4 seed in the West. Yawn. Same prediction as the last 2 years since they first hit the playoffs with this core. They've stockpiled more talent along the way, yet can't stay and healthy and boast the worst offensive scheme in the history of NBA basketball.
(By the way, I'm curious how the Blazer fans will react to Turkoglu. Are they still holding a grudge against him for a 2-day tete-a-tete two years ago? Or have they moved on to something more current? Personally, I will bust out laughing if I hear boos when he touches the ball like they did when he visited as a Raptor last year. Talk about an inability to let go...ok, back to regularly scheduled programming.)
Their starting lineup is the same as last year. Brandon Roy is healthy, and Nic Batum is pretty much healthy (back spasms, I heard). Miller, Camby and Aldridge round it out. No surprises there.
On the bench, they dropped Jerryd Bayless, Martell Webster and Juwan Howard, as well as local boy Jeff Pendergraph, who suffered a knee injury in preseason and was subsequently waived. Nothing like rehabbing on your own, right?
They added Wesley Matthews (who went from undrafted free agent to Utah's starting lineup to $34 mill in one year!), kept Rudy Fernandez and Dante Cunningham, and brought in a couple draft picks (including Luke Babbitt) and fringees who shouldn't get a lot of playing time unless someone gets hurt.
Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla are still out from last year's injuries with no real timeline for either's return. Oden played a little 5-on-5 yesterday and didn't displace anything, so that's good news.
Some other points of view...
Dave at BEdge spent more time scouting the Suns and devising a game plan than I did in reverse. In fact, most of this preview talks about the Suns. It's a very good read.
Oregon Live Suns/Blazers PreviewThe Blazers preseason wasn't all rosy and sweet either. This preview talks about 2 teams trying to find their groove.
Not sure I agree with this wholeheartedly. Certainly, Gentry needs to find out what Hedo can provide the Suns this season on a predictable basis. Based on that knowledge, then Gentry needs to give him commensurate playing time.
So I don't agree that the only way the Suns succeed is with Hedo playing well. As long as Gentry gives him the minutes he DESERVES, then all will be fine. They are even talking about Hedo on the second team already. This is fine, as long as Warrick holds his own in the starting lineup.
The man who led the Suns to a playoff pasting of the Blazers has officially hooked on to another NBA team. And some of you thought he was washed up. Tisk tisk...