Time: 7pm (Phoenix time)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
The Phoenix Suns (22-54) head to Oregon for their…Pentium? Pentagram? Pinterest?…second-to-last road game of the season against the playoff-hungry Portland Trail Blazers (37-38).
Penultimate! That’s it!
Trail Blazers Update
Portland has won five in a row and eight of its last nine games to take a fairly secure hold of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference as the season winds down. Only two of those eight wins have come by single digits.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the dual engines that make the Blazers run. They average a combined 49.9 points to form one of the most potent offensive backcourts in the NBA. Portland’s biggest problem was that there wasn’t enough help around those two to alleviate the pressure applied by opposing defenses. Enter Jusuf Nurkic. He struggled to fit alongside Nikola Jokic in Denver, but his mid-season trade to Portland has been a revelation for both parties. Nurkic became the starting center with the Blazers, averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks, and the Blazers added an interior presence that Lillard and McCollum could dump the ball down into, thus adding a new wrinkle to a previously one-dimensional offense. Or at least that was the case before Nurkic went down with a fracture in his leg on Thursday that is expected to keep him out for at least two critical weeks. In his place, the Blazers will be forced to turn to Meyers Leonard, who has underwhelmed this season, or play more small-ball lineups with Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward and Noah Vonleh at center. Allen Crabbe averages 10.6 points off the bench and is shooting 43.8 percent from 3-point range this season. Maurice Harkless averages 10.1 points but is also one of Portland’s top defenders, holding his matchup to 41.1 percent shooting on the season — a difference of 4.6 percent from what they usually average.
The Blazers average 108.3 points per game, which is their highest scoring average since 1992-93 (108.5). With an offense that relies so heavily on their perimeter scorers, it’s no surprise they also attempt 27.4 3-pointers per game and convert them at a 37.3-percent rate. They really rely on their offense because they are one of the worst teams in the league at forcing turnovers, managing just 12.8 per game, and they surrender 109 points per game on 37-percent 3-point shooting. Over their last nine games, though, Portland has allowed just 99.6 points per game (5th in the NBA) and 29.3-percent 3-point shooting (2nd in the league).
Points: Damian Lillard (26.7)
Rebounds: Jusuf Nurkic (10.4)
Assists: Damian Lillard (5.9)
The Suns have lost 10 straight games, and a loss tonight would mark the fifth-longest losing streak in team history.
Despite the losing, Devin Booker is playing like somebody who isn’t ready for summer. He has averaged 38.5 points over his last four games, with 33 coming against the Los Angeles Clippers before fouling out on Thursday. Another player hitting his stride is Derrick Jones Jr., who has averaged 11.5 points in his last two games while shooting 62.5 percent from the field. Tyler Ulis, meanwhile, will continue facing elite point guards tonight after collecting 16 points and 13 assists against Chris Paul. Ronnie Price continues to play like someone who has appeared in only eight games this season.
During this 10-game losing streak, Phoenix has averaged 103 points per game on 42.7-percent shooting, 27.3-percent shooting from 3, and 69.6-percent shooting from the free throw line. Those percentages rank 27th, 30th, and 29th in the NBA respectively over that span.
Points: Devin Booker (21.8)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (11.5)
Assists: Eric Bledsoe (6.3)
Leandro Barbosa (Suns): right hamstring spasms (QUESTIONABLE)
Dragan Bender (Suns): right ankle surgery (OUT)
Brandon Knight (Suns): stigmata (OUT)*
Eric Bledsoe (Suns): night terrors (OUT)*
Tyson Chandler (Suns): lycanthropy (OUT)*
Jusuf Nurkic (Blazers): non-displaced right fibular fracture (OUT)
Ed Davis (Blazers): left labrum surgery (OUT)
Festus Ezeli (Blazers): left knee surgery (OUT)
*may not be official
The Suns are 1-2 against Portland this season, with that sole win coming on an Eric Bledsoe buzzer beater in overtime on Nov. 2.
The Blazers will be adjusting to life without Nurkic in the middle for the first time since Feb. 15. It has to be a big psychological blow for a franchise that has been historically snakebit by injuries, but with so few games left in the regular season, the Blazers should be able to circle the wagons and limp into the playoffs. The problem for the Suns is that Portland should be amped up in their first game sans Nurk to prove they can carry the load. The good news for Ryan McDonough’s tank is that Portland should be amped up in their first game sans Nurk to prove they can carry the load. Alex Len and Alan Williams should be able to manhandle Portland’s interior barring foul trouble, but expect Lillard and McCollum to be especially aggressive tonight.
Tyler Ulis vs. Damian Lillard
Since ascending to the role of starting point guard, Tyler Ulis has faced the likes of Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker, and Chris Paul. Combined, those four players averaged 27.5 points on 51.4-percent shooting from the field against Ulis. Now he will be facing yet another elite point guard in Damian Lillard. It may be asking too much of a rookie to put the clamps on a player as talented as Lillard, but it would be an encouraging sign with the season winding down to see Ulis at least prove capable of slowing down Dame D.O.L.L.A.