While the Suns are missing players, the Blazers are struggling in their own ways. I connected with the good folks at BlazersEdge.com, the SB Nation blog on the Blazers, to share some questions about each team on what to expect when they face off on Tuesday night.
I hope you enjoy the exchange...
Question for BEdge: What’s the prognosis on CJ (lung) and Dame (abdomen)?
We’re still out on CJ McCollum’s return date from a right lung pneumothorax, which is when air leaks into the space between the lung and chest wall, pushing on the outside of the lung instead of inflating the inside and causing the lung to collapse. Lillard made his return to the court against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. Unfortunately, his presence wasn’t enough to lift the Blazers over the young Wolves. Lillard is be no means 100 percent fit but looks as if he’ll continue to battle through the ongoing issue.
Question for BSotS: The Blazers got a look at the Suns on Oct. 23 before the team went on its long win streak? What has changed about the Suns since the last meeting?
So far, each win has gone to the rested team at home, with the Blazers winning opening week, then the Suns winning two weeks later. This time, the Blazers have the rest advantage as the Suns play Monday in LA. Overall, the Suns are playing very well, winners of 20 of their last 21 games, but are now (probably) without Booker, (maybe) Ayton and — I can’t believe I’m writing this — will definitely miss Frank Kaminsky too.
Question for BEdge: Which Blazers’ rotation players have stepped up with these injuries to the stars?
Good question, the following names are applicable (when fit), Nassir Little, Anfernee Simons, Norman Powell and believe or not Ben McLemore. Now the first three have had more of impact, making the most of an uptick in minutes. Powell, and to a lesser extent,
Jusuf Nurkic have had to carry a lot of the offensive load with Powell, in particular, playing up to his new five year-$90 million contract. McLemore has rarely seen the floor when this team has been fully fit, but has delivered a much-needed scoring punch off the bench in recent weeks.
Question for BSotS: What is the biggest challenge the Suns currently face?
Complaining about Suns challenges to Blazers fans is like complaining a bruise to a person with two broken arms. The Suns are missing some rotation players at the moment (Booker, Ayton, Nader, Kaminsky, Saric) but have been winning anyway with a deep bench. Ayton might even be back on Tuesday. The biggest immediate challenge is not expecting too much from Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet in Booker’s absence.
Now for the Lightning Round — Same question for each side...
If the Blazers surprise the Suns with a win on Tuesday, what would be the reason?
BSotS: The Suns losing to the Blazers would not be a surprise, given it’s a SEGABABA on the road and the Suns are currently missing some players. If they lose, it’s because they couldn’t shoot straight and couldn’t defend on the other end (exactly what happened on Monday night vs. Clippers). The Blazers can win if Dame does Dame stuff, and everyone steps up in CJ’s absence — as long as they force the Suns to shoot poorly.
BEdge: First of all, this would be the surprise of all surprises, but for the sake of argument, it would be some sort of cohesiveness on the defensive side of the ball. Coach Chauncey Billups’ “new and improved” defensive scheme is yet to translate onto the court.
But during the rare moments of defensive competency, this team has looked passable. The other, and more obvious, reason for a Blazers win would be Damian Lillard rekindling the form he exhibited during last season’s playoffs, namely Game 5 in Denver.
What is one thing about your team that you wouldn’t find in a box score?
BSotS: The Suns are really, really good on defense — best in franchise history, probably. They are ranked #2 overall this season in defensive efficiency and just simply don’t give up many easy shots. The Suns you saw on that Saturday night in Portland in opening week are not the Suns anyone else has seen. Not a single player is having a career year on the offensive end, unless you count backup center JaVale McGee, yet they are 21-4 and look every bit the part of a contender. Their depth and defense is what’s carrying them.
BEdge: Larry Nance Jr. has been good for this (Blazers) team. He does the little things that don’t necessarily shine in the box score but genuinely making a difference. On Sunday, he replaced Robert Covington in the starting lineup and rightly so, given Covington’s lackluster performance to start the season. Nance Jr. has been impactful on both sides of the ball thanks to a high basketball IQ, allowing him to make the right pass or get to that all-important spot on the last line of defense.
What is your prediction for the game?
BSotS: I do think the Suns win this one. With CJ McCollum out (prayers up!), the Blazers just need too much from Dame to beat the best teams in the league. I really do hope the Blazers are healthy soon enough to make a playoff push. But just as I wrote earlier, they’re talented enough to win any game and I would not be surprised to see a Blazers win on Tuesday.
BEdge: A Suns win and it won’t be close. Portland handily beat Phoenix at home in October but, honestly, that outing feels like the game that occurs once or twice out of every 100. I’m hoping I’m wrong though.