Coming off the emotional one point home win against the Spurs, the Blazers face another team that has been a tremendous nemesis. Suns games have been an exercise in futility for the Blazers recently. It isn't just that they have lost 9 straight...spanning more than the length of Brandon Roy's career...it is that they have not even completed.
At least games with the Spurs had been close. Phoenix, however, tends to blow Portland out. A lot of it started with Amare Stoudemire.
Early in the season last year he had gotten inside the head of LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge had some extremely ineffectual games as a result and other Blazers shot poorly. Late in the season LA showed some improvement and it seems a match-up he is now ready to face. Of course, it is not the same Phoenix team that Portland will visit.
Interestingly enough, Joel Przybilla seems to do an above average job on Shaquille O'Neal. Despite the fact O'Neals' numbers looked good overall against the Vanilla Gorilla, those numbers were largely skewed by one game where Joel played poorly and O'Neal went off.
As a general rule, Przybilla makes O'Neal take a lot of shots to get his points and does a nice job on the boards. He does not turn the match-up into a draw by any stretch of the imagination, but he generally at least makes the points coming out of the center into tough ones.
Joel's ability to match up one on one with the Big Cactus allows the other Blazers to stay with their men instead of fading low to double team. Unfortunately, they historically have still been lit up.
Steve Blake struggles with guards who penetrate. He showed last night against Tony Parker that little factoid has not changed. Steve Nash figures to have a field day against him. The penetration of Nash is what will lead to open shots for Amare Stoudemire, Raja Bell, Grant Hill, and the other Phoenix shooters.
It does not help that Stoudemire is quicker and stronger than Aldridge. He already scores easily and when that ability is amplified by the break-downs of the Blazer perimeter defenders, Stouedmire figures to have some big, big nights.
The Suns also are switching up their defensive structure under former Blazer great Terry Porter. It remains to be seen how completely they will buy into his system, but so far this season the points they are giving up seem to be down a bit. In Bell they have a superior wing defender, and in Stoudemire and O'Neal they have some serious rebounding potential.
That makes it imperative for Portland to shoot a good percentage, something they have yet to accomplish this season. Roy looked like he was starting to get his groove back against the Spurs, as was Aldridge. This is a good sign as the Phoenix defenders are similar to the Spurs who matched up with them.
Bell is not as good a defender as Bruce Bowen, so in theory Roy will be able to get some good looks at the basket as well as create some open shots for his teammates. Aldridge will have to figure out ways to keep Stoudemire from poking the ball away as he did so effectively last year, but if LA can do that, he should score the ball well.
Meanwhile, the need to guard Roy and Aldridge should put a lesser defender on Travis Outlaw. This can be good or bad. It is bad if Outlaw falls in love with his jump shot and starts bombing away from the perimeter.
To be sure, Outlaw can be deadly when he is on. His jab step/fall back jumper is incredibly tough even to contest, much less block. Unfortunately, he gets overconfident and goes to that move to often from a little to deep on the floor.
Conversely, when he penetrates good things tend to happen for Portland. The defense has to scramble which creates some holes for offensive rebounding and often leads to foul problems for the big men. Outlaw has the speed, agility, and quickness to create havoc when he drives.
In a similar way, Rudy Fenandez has the potential off the bench to cause problems for Suns defenders. If he is hitting his shot he will be a nightmare and a difference maker. If not, it could be a long night for Portland.
The other wildcard is Nicolas Boom Boom Batum. He got about 21 minutes at home against the Spurs. However, Coach McMillan has shown a real reluctance to play him on the road. Will that continue or will he get some minutes? If he gets minutes, don't be surprised to see McMillan revert to the ploy from last night of putting Batum on Nash.
While Parker did get past Batum a couple times, the length, instincts, and surprisingly good footwork of Batum did cause Parker more problems than anyone else the Blazers put on him. If Batum can slow Nash, it will give Portland a chance.
Not much of one, though. Phoenix is still a top team in the League, is playing at home, and is facing a team that has yet to show they are anywhere near the road team that they are home team. An average Phoenix effort still beats a good Portland effort.
For Portland to win they need a good shooting percentage, to have at least 3 scorers over 15 and several more close to double figures, they need to limit the Suns breaks and keep Nash from going off with his penetration.
It could happen, I just don't think the Blazers are ready yet. Look for a Phoenix win.