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Preseason preview: Suns host Blazers, Ayton faces first big NBA challenge

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The scene of the crime, except this is just of the preseason variety

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns host Portland Trail Blazers, Preseason Game #3

When: Friday, October 5 at 7:00pm

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona

TV: Streaming on Suns.com

Radio: 98.7 FM


The last time the Phoenix Suns played the Portland Trail Blazers in Phoenix was Game 61 last year, where the fiesty Suns had a big lead and lost in a thriller in the final second, 106-104. (you thought I was going to talk about Game 1 last year but nah... )

The Suns starting lineup in that March game was completely different than the group who will tip off on this Friday night. Out is Devin Booker (hand, one more week), gone are Elfrid Payton and Alex Len, and now coming off the bench are T.J. Warren and Dragan Bender. That starting five, with little contribution from the bench outside of Troy Daniels, had a 13 point lead in the 4th quarter before a big Blazers comeback. Damian Lillard capped off his 40 point night with a driving final-second layup.

Watch Booker (30 points on the night) and Lillard go back and forth at the end here.

That’s all we need to talk about Suns/Blazers matchups last season. Seriously. There’s no other relevant subject matter or game.

So let’s move on to this season!

Out/injured

Suns: Devin Booker (hand, 2-4 weeks)

Blazers: Maurice Harkless (knee, questionable)

Probable Starting Lineups

Suns

The Suns have got to find their shooting touch. They are only shooting 10-53 (19%) on threes this season. For those who need context: 36% is league average.

Per forwards Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza the shooting woes are nothing to worry about.

“We’re brand new, man,” Anderson said. “And we need more experience playing together.”

Ariza especially doesn’t want to hear about their missed shots.

He cares most about something he wants Ayton to do.

Blazers

Check out the preseason preview on the Blazers here, courtesy of the incredible folks at BlazersEdge.com.

The Blazers return much the same team as last year, only shuffling the end of their bench around. Ed Davis has moved on to Brooklyn while Seth Curry is now the flamethrower off the bench when Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum need a rest.

The Blazers are still all about their backcourt, with everyone else just rotating around them. Jusuf Nurkic is the big man in the middle (7’0”, 280 lbs), flanked by (when he returns) Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. That group won 49 games a year ago, 15th in the league on offense and 8th on defense.

Until Harkless returns, the Blazers will turn to Jake Layman, Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and the like.

Leonard had 14 points in the opening preseason game. And if you recall, it was Leonard who killed the Suns last preseason from behind the arc in what was likely a preview of that opening night debacle a week later.

Key matchup

With Devin Booker out, it’s got to be Deandre Ayton versus Jusuf Nurkic as the key matchup.

Ayton has been posting huge numbers (22.5 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks per game) as the Suns primary weapon this week, but that’s been against the Kings’ Willie-Cauley Stein and New Zealand Breakers’ Shawn Long.

Can he post a 20/10 against the likes of Jusuf Nurkic? This is Ayton’s first real NBA level test and it’s a doozy. Nurkic is not only tall but has 280 pounds of sand in that bucket. Ayton won’t be able to physically bully him.

Prediction

It’s preseason. It doesn’t matter who wins.

I just hope the Suns make more than 20% of their threes and that Ayton doesn’t have a bad game.