Suns Host Blazers in Season Opener

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The Suns season-opening opponent is a familiar one. Phoenix faced Portland in the preseason and came away with a 104-98 win on the road.

The Blazers have been perfect since then, winning five straight exhibition games. Reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard scored over 20 points in four of those contests, including a 28-point outburst against Sacramento.

BLAZERS at SUNS

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Where: US Airways Center

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: Arizona Sports 620

After falling short of the playoffs a year ago, Portland has since reinforced its depth at each position. Free agent signee Mo Williams is their new sixth man, backing up both guard spots with a dose of shooting and playmaking. He scored in double figures in the last five preseason games, including a 17-point, five-assist, five-rebound outing against the Kings.

Other key newcomers include big men Robin Lopez, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson, as well as perimeter shooters Dorell Wright and Allen Crabbe.

Top draft pick C.J. McCollum is out with a broken foot.

KEY MATCHUP

Nicolas Batum’s size (6-8) and speed have made him into one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. The sixth-year forward is often used as a stopper on opposing point guards, a role he played for France in EuroBasket 2013. Batum guarded Suns point guard Goran Dragic when France played Slovenia in the quarterfinals, and could be assigned to guard him or Eric Bledsoe tonight.

Should that happen, Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek doesn’t want either of his playmakers to shy from making the assignment a difficult one.

“I guarded Isiah Thomas when we played Detroit a lot, just trying to use my height and length on him,” Hornacek said. “I don’t have great length, but I was longer than he was and I tried to lay off him, just challenge shots. I always told myself if he really went at me and he brought it to me, I think I’d be in trouble. Same thing [tonight]. If they’re going to try that and put Batum on one of our guards, they’re just going to attack him.”

OPPONENT X-FACTOR

The Blazers boast several players who can get hot in a hurry in Lillard, Aldridge and Williams. Hornacek acknowledged their talent Wednesday morning after shootaround, but doesn’t want his players to allow such hot streaks easily.

“They’ve got All-Stars in Aldridge and Lillard will probably be an All-Star someday,” Hornacek said. “We’ve got to slow those guys down. We’ve got to be physical with them.”

Look for how well the Blazers top scorers handle that defensive pressure in the beginning, especially with the perimeter heat provided by the trio of Bledsoe, Dragic and P.J. Tucker.

FINAL THOUGHT

Don’t expect leadership to be a question mark on this year’s Suns team. Hornacek wasted no time in making Dragic and Bledsoe the team captains, a decision he felt went hand-in-hand with their on-court duties.

“The two point guards are in charge out there calling plays,” Hornacek said. “I always felt it’s good to have the point guards out there [as captains]. One of those two guys is probably always going to be on the court so we always have somebody on the court that’s in that position.”