What: Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trailblazers
Where: Moda Center (Portland)
When: 7PM (AZ)
Listen: AZ Sports 98.7 FM
Probable Starting Lineups:
Suns: Eric Bledsoe, PJ Tucker, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Alex Len (I am assuming Brandon Knight will not be playing tonight)
Trailblazers: Damian Lillard, Arron Afflalo, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez
Well folks, it was fun while it lasted.
Last night, the Suns playoff hopes were dashed when they blew a 20 point lead to the Oklahoma City Thunder, ultimately falling 109-97. Indeed, the playoffs are a setting sun in Phoenix, with OKC holding a 4 game lead on the Suns (not to mention the New Orleans Pelicans now hold a 1 1/2 game lead on the Suns). The Suns would need to finish with a better record than OKC to make the playoffs (as the Thunder won the tiebreaker last night), so it is all but certain the Suns will not be making the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
I'm going to make the argument that this isn't a terrible thing. This team, as it stands, would be a quick first round exit anyways. The midseason shuffling of players left us with a core of young guys that could very well turn into a cohesive unit, but they are simply too raw right now. With the loss last night, the Suns can now shift their focus from playoffs to youth development. That starts tonight against the Portland Trailblazers.
It'll be interesting to see how the Suns respond tonight. I have a feeling they'll come out with a fire and play hard these last 8 games. I think they'll relish playing the spoiler role, doling out losses to playoff teams, and hopefully messing up some seeding situations. That's always fun.
But at worst, we'll probably see a lot more T.J. Warren and Archie Goodwin, and that's never a bad thing! As of this posting, there's no word of Brandon Knight's status tonight, but there's no sense in rushing him back now.
Hey, remember these guys? You may recall the Suns crumbled to them in the last few minutes last Friday. It was one L of the now three loss streak that crushed the playoff hopes. Since Friday, the Blazers defeated the Denver Nuggets, and had Sunday off to rest at home.
The Trailblazers are still jockeying for a higher seed (they're two games behind 3rd seed Memphis), so this game will still mean something to them. The Suns should look at tonight's game as an opportunity to get some revenge for their Friday night loss.
Phoenix had the same problem against Portland that its had against pretty much every team since the All-Star break; they just could not hit open shots. Even though the looks were there, the shots just wouldn't fall. However, they were able to give Portland fits on defense. The Blazers were held to 40% shooting, and LaMarcus Aldridge, his last few shots withstanding, did not have a great time dealing with a pesky Suns defense, detailed by Bryan Gibberman here. The Suns also held Damian Lillard to 11 points on 4-15 shooting.
Giving up offensive rebounds was a bit of a concern for the Suns, with Robin Lopez nabbing up 6 of them. They'll need to do a better job protecting the glass this time around.
Looking back at the numbers, it really is a shame the Suns lost last Friday. They outscored the Blazers in fast break points and points in the paint, but they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn door in half court situations.
I know it's hard to get excited about a game like this after the Suns lost their shot at the playoffs last night. Nevertheless, it should be interesting to see how they handle this situation. Say what you will about this season, but you can't argue that these guys had a lot of fight. I think they'll go down swinging. Portland tends to bring out the best in the Suns anyways. These next few games should be fun and filled with lots of Warren and Goodwin!