When: Thursday, February 5, 2015, 8:30 PM local time (10:30 ET)
Where: Moda Center, Portland, OR
Watch/Listen: TV: TNT/Fox Sports Arizona Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
This is the second of four meeting between the teams this season. The Suns lead the series 1-0.
On January 21, 2015 the Phoenix Suns held on to beat the Blazers 118-113 at US Airways Center. The Suns led the game 91-76 entering the fourth quarter before squandering their lead and trailing by as much as five (110-105). A three pointer by Goran Dragic and a three point play by Eric Bledsoe stopped the bleeding and Markieff Morris hit a shot that gave the Suns the lead for good (113-112) at the 1:02 mark.
Eric Bledsoe had a monster game with 33 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals. Isaiah Thomas also poured in 27 off the bench. Nicolas Batum led the Blazers with 27 points, 10 rebounds and six three pointers. Damian Lillard also scored 22 points, but was a paltry 6-22 from the field.
The Trail Blazers played without starters LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez.
Phoenix Suns: 28-22
After the Suns capped a 14-4 stretch of basketball with a win against the Blazers they have come back to earth by losing four of their last six games. Phoenix has been pillaged by Western Conference opponents, going 1-8 over their last nine games against the top 10 teams in the standings. Finishing games has been an issue for the Suns, who lost six of those eight contests by narrow margins.
Coach Jeff Hornacek appears to be moving closer to an eight man rotation with Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Morris and new addition Brandan Wright getting the bulk of the minutes off the bench. Gerald Green, in particular, and Miles Plumlee have felt the squeeze. Green has played just 31 total minutes in the last four games and has been criticized for porous defense.
Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Thomas and Markieff Morris all average between 15.2-16.9 points in a balanced scoring attack. Bledsoe is having a quietly spectacular season with averages of 16.9 points, 6.0 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game, making him one of only four qualified players averaging at least 16/5/5/1.5. The other three are James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.
A win tonight would give the Suns a 4-4 split against a perilous eight game stretch that included the Blazers (twice), Rockets, Clippers, Wizards, Bulls, Warriors and Grizzlies.
Portland Trail Blazers: 33-16
Portland has hit a pothole in the road recently, managing a miserable 3-8 record over the team's last 11 games. Bad could have easily turned to worse, as it was reported All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge might miss 6-8 weeks with a ligament tear in his left thumb. Instead Aldridge missed just two games, opting to delay surgery to repair the damage.
More good news for the Blazers came earlier this week in the form of Robin Lopez's return after missing 23 games with a broken hand. Lopez had 11 points, six rebounds and two blocks in his first game back Tuesday night.
Portland is led by Aldridge (23.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game) and Damian Lillard (21.7 points and 6.3 assists per game), while Wesley Matthews leads the league in made three pointers (151).
The Blazers are 21-5 at home, tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for third best mark in the league.
What To Watch For:
Lillard vs. Bledsoe - This will be a matchup of the most notable player to not make an All-Star roster and a player having a great season who is conspicuously absent from All-Star discussion altogether. Bledsoe took round one of this fight with a huge game in Phoenix's win. Lillard has shot the ball abhorrently lately, finally making over half his shots in his last game after never surpassing .385 in the previous eight. If the Suns can continue to stymie Lillard's "All-Star snub revenge tour" they will have a great chance to steal this game.
The Rolo factor - Lopez looked sharp in his first game back from injury, taking up space and setting crisp picks. If Len, who is second in the NBA in personal fouls, can play a clean game this should be an interesting individual battle.
Eight is enough - Will Hornacek continue to roll with the shortened rotation and perpetuate Gerald Green's ostracism?
The Final Word(s):
I was thinking about writing I hope the Suns can keep this one close, but that hasn't really worked out too well for the Suns lately. Maybe the late game tribulations aren't as bad as they seem. While the Suns are 2-6 in their last eight games decided by five or less points (and in OT), Dave King wrote an article that revealed Phoenix is 8-6 in its last 14 close games.
The Blazers don't really strike fear into my heart, but 21-5 at home is still 21-5 at home.
The Suns beat the Blazers by five two weeks ago, so I'll pick Portland to return the favor 112-107.