When: 2:00 p.m. AZ Time
Where: Footprint Center
Listen: 98.7 FM
I feel like a kid counting down the days to a trip to Disneyland, agonizingly watching the calendar. I want to pack my suitcase, get in the minivan, and hit the road for the coast. Instead I’m watching Disney+ and refamiliarizing myself with the characters and plot twists that I will meet once I arrive at the Magic Kingdom. And, while entertaining, it’s just not the same as the real thing.
The regular season is a week away and the opportunity for the Suns to defend their Western Conference championship is on the horizon. But not yet. Phoenix is looking to wrap up their preseason schedule tonight, exactly one week prior to their regular season tip-off against the Denver Nuggets.
The game was originally scheduled to be played at 7:00pm, but due to the fantastic success of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury — they play Game 2 of the WNBA Finals at home on Wednesday night — the game has been moved to 2:00pm for the second Suns/Mercury double-header. Hell yes.
The Blazers are playing game 3 of 4 in their preseason and experimenting with their lineups as they prepare for the 2021-22 campaign. Changes have been made to the roster, including the addition of former Suns’ first-rounder Marquese Chriss, in an effort to keep their 6-time All-Star Damian Lillard engaged. Okay, Chriss ain’t the answer, but the tea has made some quality additions.
What should we expect? Plenty of developmental minutes. That’s what.
The Trail Blazers are coming off yet another disappointing early-postseason exit and, despite the national media’s speculation of Damian Lillard’s state-of-mind, the point guard enters his 10th season in Portland focused on winning with the organization that drafted him. Much akin to Devin Booker, Lillard has never spoken ill of his franchise or hinted that he wanted to play elsewhere. That must drive the nation pundits crazy, because they like to think that Dame Time wants out.
The organization has changed direction entering this season as they have bid adieu to head coach Terry Stotts and welcomed Chauncey Billups to the fray. This brings a change in philosophy and, as Dave Deckard of Blazers Edge notes, “Chauncey Billups wants to change up the attack. He prefers more interior play: penetration and dishing from the guards, setting up the big men to score or become facilitators themselves. This requires a different approach to the point guard position.”
This makes the preseason minutes of Anfernee Simons a point of focus as the team explores his minutes as a playmaker rather than a scorer. Dennis Smith, Jr. was added to the roster as well as the team tries to find an answer for when Lillard rests.
Portland GM Neil Olshey is doing what he can to add talent and depth around Lillard. The newest big-name edition for the Blazers is Larry Nance, Jr., who came over in a three-team trade that sent Derrick Jones, Jr. (and a first-round pick) to the Chicago Bulls. This trade also involved Lauri Markkanen, who now plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Will Nance be the answer to the bench woes Portland has experienced moving forward? The Blazer fanbase thinks so.
Out: Dario Saric
This is it. The last test before it counts. The Suns have looked good in the preseason thus far, with new additions JaVale McGee and Landry Shamet seamlessly fitting into the lineups put forth by Monty Williams. It’s a little Spurs-ish, don’t you think? Having a culture that allows you to plug in players who buy into t
he system and have them appear as if they’ve been here for three seasons? Granted, the season has not truly begun and time will tell if that is indeed true, but early returns are suggesting that the Phoenix culture is repeatable.
Expect much of the same for Phoenix in this one: 20 minutes for the starters and plenty of reps for the second and third teams. The continued development of second-year forward Jalen Smith is of note as he gets more reps. Following a stellar Summer League, and positive returns thus far this preseason, he is obtaining the confidence that will bode well for him during the season when called upon. He is also learning how to play at a pro level, for you are now seeing him operate in the paint on both ends of the floor rather than retreat to the three-point line.
It might not count, but it’s Suns basketball. Let’s go.
The environment will be electric in the Footprint Center as many fans will be getting excited to experience a WNBA Finals game. Their appetizer to the main dish in the Suns’ preseason finale.
The depth of the Suns is better than that of the Blazers, and although the games don’t count, the minutes matter for the likes of Chandler Hutchison and Chasson Randle. Elfrid Payton will continue his case for more minutes, JaVale will work on his repor with his teammates, and Landry Shamet will shoot his shots. This team is exciting in a non-7SOL way: they can beat you in so many ways. Depth. Shooting. Defense. From the perimeter. From the interior. It might be preseason, but it translates down the roster.
Suns win, 112-99.