Suns Face Similarly Scorching Blazers

Barry Gossage/NBAE

When tuning in to watch the Suns game tonight, don’t look for the same Blazers team Phoenix beat 104-91 in the season opener.

Portland has recovered and then some since then, winning five of their last six games on their way to a record identical to the Suns’. Their offense has been their catalyst in that span, clearing the 100-point mark in all but one of their games since the loss in Phoenix.

The Blazers have been led by their familiar duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard , but the complimentary players’ versatility has settled in nicely around them. Nicolas Batum is averaging career highs in rebounds (7.1 rpg) and assists (6.1) to go along with his 12.9 points per game. Wesley Matthews is connecting on an astounding 51.5 percent of his three-point attempts.

As a result, Portland is seventh in the league in scoring (104.1 ppg). One of their best offensive performances came against the vaunted Spurs defense, which they shredded for 115 points on 55.6 percent shooting on their way to a 10-point win.

KEY MATCHUP

One of the quieter keys to Portland’s success has been Lillard’s improved caretaking of the basketball. His turnovers per game are down from 3.0 in his rookie year to 1.9 so far this season. He’s also getting to the free throw line for nearly two more attempts per game than a year ago.

Eric Bledsoe prides himself in forcing the opposite of all that: more turnovers, more body-up defense and less trips to the free throw line.

If the Suns’ point guard can cause all of that – while keeping Lillard at or below his 39.1 percent shooting clip – Phoenix could compromise a big part of what makes Portland go.

OPPONENT X-FACTOR

When these two teams played in the opener, the Blazers played their starters the vast majority of minutes, subsequently forcing Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek to do the same.

Phoenix’s bench has solidified its collective role and momentum since then, but Portland has continued to rely on its starters heavily and its bench sparingly.

If the Blazers continue that trend, one of two possibilities will occur: 1) the Suns bench will play well and wear Portland’s starters down or 2) the bench will struggle to match production and Hornacek will once again be forced to play his own starting unit heavy minutes.

FINAL THOUGHT

Lillard (32 poiints) and Aldridge (28 points) erupted offensively the last time these teams met. Hornacek, however, was fine with the stars getting their points as long as the role players were limited.

“Sometimes you’re okay when the stars get it and you limit everyone else, especially on the road,” Hornacek said. “The stars are going to get their numbers anyway. You don’t want them to each get 30, but you know they’re going to get in the twenties, so you try to keep them there and have everybody else limited.”

The strategy worked in the opener. No other Blazer scored in double-figures. The combined shooting percentage of the Blazers, excluding Aldridge and Lillard, was 28.2 percent.