Tonight, the 6-11 Phoenix Suns will take on the 11-8 Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden, 8:00pm MST, in what is sure to be a test for the Suns regarding their resolve to stay together and willingness to continue competing.
The Suns are coming off of a disappointing two-game losing streak against the Dallas Mavericks without Dirk Nowitzki, and then against the Toronto Raptors at home who the Suns had previously beaten 14 times straight. The confidence of this team is in question and their future together hangs in the balance. The Suns' lone victory against an opponent with a winning record came against the Blazers back on Jan. 6th; when they upset Portland with a blowout victory 102-77. Tonight's game will either further the notion that something must be done to shake things up, or show that this team still has some fight left in it.
The Trail Blazers are coming off of difficult stretch themselves after losing five of their last nine games, with seven of those games on the road, but they have been playing very well at home. In fact, the Blazers are 8-1 at home so far this season compared to 3-7 on the road, so the Suns will certainly see a different team tonight than the one they beat earlier this month in Phoenix.
Will the Suns have what it takes to pull out another upset tonight against the Blazers? Read on for some analysis on what to expect from tonight's game.
A look at the Blazers:
The Blazers' best player continues to be LaMarcus Aldridge who is averaging 22.8 points and 8.9 rebounds a game. Portland is also getting significant contributions with scoring from Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, Jamal Crawford, Nicholas Batum, and Raymond Felton who are all averaging over 10 points a game. Portland is currently the 10th highest scoring team in the league averaging 96.74 points per game, and their numerous contributors help them to overcome bad games from individual players.
Here are the Suns:
The Suns on the other hand currently rank 20th in scoring, averaging 92.71 points per game. The Suns' best players are unquestionably Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat. Gortat is averaging 15.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, and Nash is averaging 14.5 points and 10.4 assists. Beyond these two players though, the Suns have struggled to find any consistency whatsoever. Jared Dudley, Grant Hill, and Shannon Brown have all been consistently inconsistent, and rookie Markieff Morris who had a fantastic start to the season has struggled over his last five games averaging only 3.6 points and 4 rebounds in each.
Steve Nash vs. Raymond Felton - While Felton has been solid for the Blazers this season averaging 10.7 points and 6.8 assists, he's simply no match for the former two-time MVP who continues to defy his age and silence the doubters. (Advantage Suns)
Ronnie Price/Shannon Brown vs. Wesley Mathews/Jamal Crawford - The Suns are still trying to find the right fit at their two guard position to balance their defense and offense on both the first and second units. The Suns will likely continue to experiment with different looks in both units tonight, but it will be a hard assignment for both Price and Brown against the Portland wings. (Advantage Portland)
Grant Hill vs. Gerald Wallace - Hill defended Wallace in the last meeting with the Blazers and held him to only one point on 0-6 shooting from the field. Since it worked so well last time Gentry may stick with it again for tonight's game, but I also wouldn't be surprised if Alvin Gentry asks Grant to defend Aldridge instead. (Advantage Suns)
Markieff Morris vs. LaMarcus Aldridge - Aldridge has been playing at an incredibly high level this season, and Morris has been struggling lately to defend his man. Over the last two games, the player he defended has been the opponents' leading scorer; with Shawn Marion scoring 29 points for Dallas and Andrea Bargnani scoring 36 points for the Raptors. It will be interesting to see if Alvin Gentry sticks with Morris guarding Portland's best player or if he asks Hill to do it instead. (Advantage Portland)
Marcin Gortat vs. Marcus Camby - The one area that Camby could out play Gortat in tonight is with rebounding. Although Gortat averages more rebounds than Camby per game (9.9 to 9.4), Camby averages more rebounds per 36 minutes (14.4 to 11.6). Gortat is more effective in all other aspects of the game though, and he should be able to create mismatches though with his mobility and ability to score inside the paint and out. The Suns need to look for Gortat early and often to help them establish their offense. (Advantage Suns)
Suns Bench vs. Blazers Bench - Portland has been getting excellent contributions from guys like Jamal Crawford, Nicholas Batum, and even Kurt Thomas. The Suns are a much deeper team and have a bevy of contributors on their bench, but have yet to find a winning formula for consistency. If Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick, and Shannon Brown play well then the Suns bench could be the difference in the game. (Advantage ?)
Like the title of the article states, this is gut check time for the Suns. This could easily be a game that the Suns fail to show up in as they continue to spiral downward in their descent, or this could be a game in which they pull themselves up by their boot straps and come together as a team for another upset against a very good opponent. The Suns have already shown they are capable of beating the Blazers when they are playing well, but they will need a team effort in order to do so, as well as consistent play from their supporting cast.
Going into this game it would be hard to pick against the Blazers who are playing so well at home, but I'll still give the Suns a punchers chance of getting a much needed win tonight.
- Robin Lopez will not be playing tonight as he is serving out a one-game suspension for purposely bumping into a ref during Tuesday's game against the Toronto Raptors.
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