What: Phoenix Suns host Portland Trail Blazers
When: 7:00PM Phoenix time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
Many Suns fans are frustrated with the team’s 0-4 start, but the under-talented, inexperienced Suns just were not favored to win any of their opening games.
And tonight’s game against the Blazers won’t be any different. The Suns are once again expected to lose to the playoff-caliber opponent.
Coming into the season, many had the Blazers pegged for a Top-4 seed in the playoffs, but so far they are off to fits and starts with a 2-2 record marred by one of the league’s worst defenses.
In fact, the Blazers 2-2 start is only marginally more impressive than the Suns’ 0-4 start.
The Blazers two losses have come to two of the same teams the Suns have lost to: by a combined 31 points to the Warriors and Clippers. Their two wins have been an overtime affair over the Nuggets and an opening night win over Utah, two teams they were expected to beat.
In the process, the Blazers have posted the league’s 4th-worst defensive points-allowed-per-possession. You could blame the schedule on that but, the Suns have done better against both the Clippers and Warriors, for example.
Don’t get me wrong. The Blazers are a very good team and the fifth straight team coming in favored to beat the Suns to open the season.
Damian Lillard has been phenomenal so far, posting a whopping 34 points per game plus 6.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists. His running mate, C.J. McCollum, is once again pouring in his own 20 points per game along with 5 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
The other Blazers are performing about like they did a year ago as well, leading one to believe that the can easily reprise last season’s 44-38 record.
We’ve covered the Suns pretty well around here lately. Rod had a nice recap of the 0-4 start on the Center of the Sun, and Deadpoolio delved into the offensive woes a bit this morning.
What they didn’t mention was the shooting themselves on defense too. When they DON’T foul, the Suns have been good defensively in the half-court.
Even at 0-4, the Suns defense ranks 15th in points-allowed-per-possession after four games. They are second in the league in ‘deflections’ per game and 4th in loose balls recovered, stats recently revealed to the basketball-hungry public on stats.nba.com. But they are only mid-pack in two-point shots contested per game and one of the worst in three-point shots contested per game.
That last stat is interesting. While the Suns contest only 12.8 threes a game, their opponents only take 21 per game, which is below the league average, and are only making 27% of them. I’ve seen the Suns do a good job of running opponents off the three-point line, which lowers the number of attempts and forces them into a lower-value shot in the mid-range.
The Suns big problem is the fouling, leading the league in opponent free throw attempts per game and per shot attempt. That may be part and parcel with the effort level - bullying opponents out of their comfort zone, running them off the three-point line, contesting shots in the paint can all lead to committing fouls if you’re not sound defensively. Watson will have look for progress on that end in terms of technique to reduce the foul calls.
Last year - Suns win 2-1
Some of the better games the Suns played last year came against the Blazers.
After being blown out by Dallas to start last season (remember that?), the Suns swept the Blazers in a weekend home-and-home, beating them by a total of 29 points. In the first game, Bledsoe and Knight combined for 40 points and T.J. Warren led the subs with 17. In the second, Bledsoe and Knight poured in a whopping 60 points while Warren went scoreless.
In the third and final meeting of last season, on December 11, Bledsoe once again played well with 31 points and 5 assists but Brandon Knight was a disappointing 0-12 from the field, but at least dished 10 assists. The Suns lost that game by 10 points.
Players to watch
As I will every single game of this 2016-17 season, I’ll be watching to see how many minutes Dragan Bender, Tyler Ulis and Marquese Chriss play.
Coach Watson has to balance giving rookies the experience of NBA basketball while also using his more predictable veterans in P.J. Tucker, Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley when they’re trying to get off the mat and win some games.
I understand his predicament, but will always hold firm that any game in which Bender, Ulis and Chriss get less than 10 minutes of playing time is a loss for the franchise and my soul.
I think the Suns will play hard, and might even pull out the home victory. It seems that even if Devin Booker can’t go (toe), the Bledsoe/Knight pairing in the backcourt matches up very well with the Lillard/McCollum pairing. Where the Suns might struggle is in the second unit. Portland’s bench is just better than the Suns’.
I’m going out on a limb to say the Suns will win the game, 106-96.