When: 7:00 PM AZ Time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Radio: 98.7 FM
After facing off with the Blazers in Portland last week, winning 114-112, they do it this time around at Talking Stick Resort Arena before they square off for real next Wednesday in the season opener.
In their first meeting, Jusuf Nurkic had his way against Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, and Alex Len down low. Nurkic scored 16 points in 16 minutes of action last Tuesday. But he suffered a concussion in their last preseason game and is not expected to go tonight.
For the Suns, T.J. Warren led the way with 24 points but has been sidelined after the first half in Salt Lake City after receiving stitches to his head. His status for Wednesday’s preseason matchup is unknown at this point in time.
Outside of Nurkic, expect a healthy dose, as usual, of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Lillard finished with 18 points in short order the last meeting, while McCollum saw a usual minute log of 34 minutes, however, he struggled from the floor finishing with only 10 points on 14 shot attempts.
With this being the second time these two teams meet before next week’s season opener that actually counts, I would expect not much to be shown on either end tonight as far as strategies go.
Names that I was very high on coming out of the draft, Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, both landed with the Blazers. Collins is the prototypical modern five for today’s game, while Swanigan has had a major transformation over the last two seasons at Purdue. Nowadays, Swanigan’s lean frame suits him well as a four and his elite rebounding traits he displayed all throughout college have been showed off early in Summer League and preseason.
Against Phoenix on Tuesday, Swanigan actually scored 18 points himself in 16 minutes off the bench. He’s a sleeper name to watch make an All-Rookie team at season’s end. Having the chance to watch Swanigan develop to what he is today compared to when I was watching him at high school in Indiana, it’s a drastic difference and awesome to see. Expect Swanigan to carve out a nice role for himself with Portland at some point averaging around 20-25 minutes per night.
As far as my overall expectations for Portland this upcoming season, I’m on the fence with them. Where do they rank right now out in the Western Conference? Unfortunately for them, this could be a contender down the line a season from now who could blow things up for the greater good. A roster revolving around Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic, Collins, Swanigan sounds fun and all but I don’t see that even getting them past a 7 or 8 seed out West consistently.
As far as this season goes, though, I see Portland finishing with around 42 to 43 wins this season and barely squeezing in the playoffs once again.
After a terrible performance on Monday against Utah, the Suns look to bounce back and show some sort of urgency Wednesday night. Even though it’s preseason, still not a good look at all to get trounced in your own building and show the lack of effort Phoenix did.
Devin Booker, who sat out Tuesday’s practice after he knocked knees during the game Monday, was just for precaution but keep an eye out for him and the usual starters tonight. Even though I expect many, if not all, to play with the preseason winding down there could be limited minutes for players already with a roster spot secured. It wouldn’t surprise me these final two games to see names like Alec Peters, Peter Jok, Anthony Bennett, and Mike James get significant minutes.
Head coach Earl Watson mentioned after Monday’s loss that Utah immediately took their offense out of rhythm with how they approached their schemes. Look for the Suns to come out more aggressive, while at the same time trying to limit the simple mistakes that plagued them against Utah: turnovers, 31 of them exactly.
Some matchups I’m looking forward to watching if we see regular rotations, is Swanigan versus Bender first off. Last Tuesday, Swanigan got the best of Bender, and after Watson called on Bender to be more aggressive after their blowout loss, I’ll be watching to see how Bender approaches tonight’s contest when he’s on the floor. Will he be in a passive mood again or will he attack the basket or shoot 10 threes like Watson mentioned to the media postgame on Monday?
Another one I’m looking forward to is Lillard versus Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe on defense was torched by Ricky Rubio, who scored 20 first-half points with the starters seeing regular minutes. Going up against a point guard levels better than Rubio, as far as scoring goes, will Bledsoe step up to the challenge? This also goes for Booker, too, as we did see both of them share reps at point guard while the other played off-ball.
After their 120-102 loss to the Jazz, will Phoenix bounce back? We shall find out as they have one more practice run against their opening night opponent in the Portland Trail Blazers.