What: Phoenix Suns (15-51) at Portland Trail Blazers (39-26)
When: 8:00 p.m. AZ
Where: Moda Center
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Suns: Tyler Johnson, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dragan Bender, Deandre Ayton
Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic
The Suns have some big questions to answer heading into Saturday’s road matchup against the Trail Blazers, but in total it’s simple: Can they keep the momentum alive?
This time around, we don’t have to do the big countdowns for the last time the Suns won X games in a row or X out of X over X weeks. They did all that in December, winning four in a row and five of six. It was fun. Then it ended.
Soon after, the Suns whipped off a 17-game losing streak. Now, we’re back in the land of wins and back in uncharted territory — the part where they must start to consistently play well.
105.2 ORtg (27th) - 114.6 DRtg (29th) = minus-9.4 NetRtg (29th)
There are a million wrinkles that could keep the Suns’ win streak alive in Portland on the first half of this back-to-back, but the biggest one as always is Devin Booker. The fifth-year playmaker had perhaps his best game of the season Wednesday, when he called his shot (he wouldn’t tell us postgame what number he told teammates he would get to but that it was higher than the 41 he accumulated). If he plays an efficient, balanced game and takes care of the ball, the Suns could be competitive with Portland.
If not, it will take an all-hands effort to beat the consistent, effective Trail Blazers. Phoenix has two ways to win games — crazy performances from Booker or defense-first chaos. Often they need both, and the emergence of Oubre has given the Suns scoring balance opposite Booker as well as another agent of defensive chaos. Saturday’s victory over the Lakers is the best example of Oubre and Ayton balancing Booker to give Phoenix a victory.
Portland is one of the toughest cities to travel to in the league and Booker has never beaten the Trail Blazers in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, the Suns haven’t won in Portland since the third game of Booker’s rookie season.
Portland Trail Blazers
113.7 ORtg (5th) - 110.1 DRtg (16th) = plus-3.7 NetRtg (9th)
Coming off a tough overtime loss to the Thunder at home, Portland will be locked in and ready to dominate on two days’ rest. It’s impossible to catch the Trail Blazers off their guard, so if they also are rested and have a little competitive edge to answer Oklahoma City’s win, it will be a long night for the Suns.
Another recent trend that could bite Phoenix is the continued emergence of swingman Jake Layman for Portland. In his first game against the Suns this year, the Maryland product went off for 24 points on 10-13 shooting. On Jan. 24, Layman again laid it on the Suns, scoring 20 on 9-16 shooting in Phoenix. With Oubre in the starting lineup, Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges will need to be sharp to stop the Trail Blazers’ spark plug, particularly considering the enormous success he’s had against the Suns this season.
Besides that, much of the scouting report is the same for Portland this year. Stopping them means limiting Lillard and McColllum and winning the interior battle against Nurkic. Perhaps then Johnson’s defense will be a big factor for Phoenix this time around, with the former Heat guard a more capable defender on Portland’s backcourt than anything the Suns could throw at them the past two seasons.
It’s going to be incredibly tough for the Suns to keep their streak alive no matter if they keep playing as well as they did at home. Going to Portland against a finely tuned machine is hard for most teams, but especially those who are young and inexperienced like the Suns.
Portland 115, Phoenix 107