Suns-Blazers Game 3 Preview
Posted: April 22, 2010
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- It has been that kind of season for the Portland Trail Blazers: Hope for the best but expect the worst.
On Wednesday, the oft-injured Blazers got some better-than-expected news about starting forward Nicolas Batum. An MRI showed he strained his right shoulder and was questionable for Game 3 of the first-round playoff series between the Blazers and the Suns.
The resilient Blazers claimed the opening game of the series 105-100 in Phoenix, but fell back in a 119-90 loss on Tuesday night.
Batum injured his shoulder in the second half when he went after a loose ball and appeared to bang his shoulder into Suns guard Steve Nash's shoulder.
The injury was of particular concern because Batum, the team's primary perimeter defender, had surgery on the shoulder just before the opener and missed the first 45 games of the season.
"You hope you don't have another guy in surgery, which is what we thought could happen last night,'' coach Nate McMillan said.
McMillan said he even took his cell phone with him to team meetings Wednesday morning, something he normally doesn't do, fearing the worst.
The playoff series continues with Game 3 on Thursday night at the Rose Garden. Batum said if it were up to him, he'd play.
"I have to play,'' said the second-year forward from France. "I don't want to miss a game.''
The Blazers were already hurting without All-Star guard Brandon Roy, who tore the meniscus in his right knee and had arthroscopic surgery two days before the playoffs got under way.
Roy was expected to be sidelined for one to two weeks. McMillan has said he wouldn't be available until the second round at the earliest.
But Roy actually did some shooting at practice Wednesday, and says his knee feels good. So good that he wouldn't rule out returning if the series with the Suns goes the distance.
"If it gets to six or seven games, I'd love to play,'' Roy said. "But I don't want to raise expectations.''
The Suns practiced in Phoenix early Wednesday before heading to Portland.
While the Blazers were able to effectively slow down the Suns in Game 1, Phoenix effectively slowed them in the second. One reason was the Suns' defense of Andre Miller. The duty was passed from Jason Richardson over to Grant Hill.
Richardson's freedom resulted in 29 points, while Hill made 10-of-11 shots for 20 points. And Miller had just 12 points after 30 in Game 1.
"I was happiest with our defense. I thought we did a real good job with that,'' said Suns coach Alvin Gentry. "I mean, kudos to Grant. I know there's not another 37-year-old guy in the league who could guard Andre Miller that way.''
But the Suns know that they've lost the element of surprise when it comes to Hill - and they'll be in hostile territory at the Rose Garden. Portland went 26-15 at home during the regular season.
"Really, we just want to come out and play well in Game 3. We'll worry about the rest of it after that,'' Nash said. "We want to come out and have another good performance, great attitude, body language, be aggressive and see what happens.''
Portland's decision on Batum will not be made until game time.
But the Blazers says they've been faced with such challenges all season. In fact, many were surprised that they won 50 games and made it to the playoffs.
In addition to Batum's recovery from shoulder surgery, centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla needed season-ending surgery and swingman Rudy Fernandez had midseason back troubles. Former forward Travis Outlaw, who was traded to the Clippers, sat out for a time with a foot injury.
Roy missed more that a dozen games with a sore hamstring earlier this year before the slight meniscus tear was discovered.
In all, 13 Blazers missed a combined 311 regular-season games, second only to the Warriors this season. Only guard Miller and forward Martell Webster played in all 82 games.
Gentry suggested the playoff series wouldn't hinge on personnel. It would be decided by something a bit more intangible.
"It's going to be the battle of wills, who's going to impose their will on the other team,'' he said. "The first game, you've got to give them credit, they did it, and the second game we did it. So now we come to a game where one of the wills are going to win out. We've got to make sure that we're doing everything we can to play the style of basketball that we're accustomed to.''
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