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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns open up regular season against Portland Trail Blazers

Portland’s star guard, C.J. McCollum is out for tonight’s game due to his one-game suspension.

NBA: Preseason-Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host Portland Trail Blazers

When: 7:00 PM AZ time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM

It’s finally time to begin another season of Suns basketball, the 50th! Even though the Suns likely won’t make the playoffs for another year, the foundation they are building off of with Devin Booker and Josh Jackson opens up a world of possibilities.

We don’t know the starting lineup yet, but only Eric Bledsoe and Booker right now are guaranteed according to Watson. Portland, meanwhile, will roll out a unit of Damian Lillard, Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, Al Farouq-Aminu, and Ed Davis.

C.J. McCollum was suspended for the season opener due to him leaving the bench during Alex Len and Caleb Swanigan’s fourth-quarter scuffle, which bodes well for Phoenix.

Portland Trail Blazers

Without McCollum, the Blazers will try to make up for his loss on the offensive end by starting their big summer acquisition from two summers ago in Turner. This should be a delight for Booker because he has had a good deal of success one-on-one against the former Ohio State Buckeye.

Both of these teams met twice in the preseason, once in Phoenix and once in Portland. They split the series, but there were a ton of promising signs for the Suns.

Look for Portland to continue to utilize Nurkic against the smaller Phoenix roster. Nurkic, who sat out while they played in Phoenix, was dominant in their first meeting. Whether it was uncontested jumpers — which head coach Earl Watson has mentioned that those types of shots they will allow for someone like Nurkic — or post-ups the Blazers continued to feed him. They shouldn’t stray away from that game plan, and Phoenix likely knows that’s coming too.

Also, with Lillard having no McCollum tonight, he should be a lot more aggressive, as far as asserting himself on offense. According to Blazers PR, Lillard is ready to go all-out tonight to get them a victory in Talking Stick Resort Arena.

"I’ll play the whole game if I have to..I'll push through..whatever we need to do to win the game,” Lillard said.

With that being said, expect a healthy dose of the Trail Blazers trying to beat the Suns with an inside-out combo of Lillard and Nurkic. If they are able to slow them down, Phoenix should be able to keep this competitive indeed.

Phoenix Suns

How will the Suns combat Portland tonight? Will they roll with a starting lineup featuring Jackson and T.J. Warren or will it feature Chandler to size up Nurkic? We should know more when Watson speaks to the media pre-game, but he likely will play it close to the vest until they have to be revealed.

For Phoenix, I’m going to cover a few guys I think are crucial to a victory tonight. Those three are obvious, yet it will be curious to see just how far two of these names have come as far as development when regular season action begins. Eric Bledsoe, Booker, and Jackson hold the keys for me as far as a Suns opening night victory goes.

The Suns will try to out-run Portland, so expect a lot of Bledsoe and Booker attacking early and often. Jackson will be a focal point for me watching to see how he initiates himself on offense. The rookie displayed his elite defensive tools throughout the preseason and finished it quarterbacking signals and calling out sets often in their final two.

Jackson has been compared by his new coach and teammates already to the likes of Kawhi Leonard (defensive potential), Russell Westbrook (rookie mentality, energy, and quickness he plays with), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (former Milwaukee Buck Jared Dudley compared him to a rookie Giannis as far as work ethic to be the best) so the expectations are obviously high. In five outings before regular season action began, Jackson looked every bit the part of a top 2017 draft prospect.

I expect Jackson to start tonight, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him platoon his own unit instead. If Watson rolls out Bledsoe, Booker, Warren, Chriss, and Chandler, Jackson then would be the primary option on both ends with the second unit. Also, a possible defensive trio of Jackson, Dragan Bender, and Davon Reed when he returns around the All-Star break is salivating to me.

Either way, Jackson immediately becomes a key for Phoenix each night to pull out victories. Watson has mentioned on multiple occasions how Jackson’s boundless energy has made a huge impact on this team already.

Before I hear from our Bright Side community on their thoughts on tonight’s game, I’m going to predict the rotation we see debuted.

Guards: Bledsoe, Booker, Daniels, Ulis, James

Wings: Jackson, Warren, Jones Jr.

Bigs: Chandler, Chriss, Bender, Len (if he’s cleared to go with his ankle injury), Alec Peters (if Len can’t go)

Suns basketball is back, folks! Time for another fun season in the NBA.

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