The rough, overachieving underdog makes it to round three against the young contender with potential. What happens now?
Back to the scene of the crime. The scene where the Phoenix Suns (7-7) began the season with an impressive and surprising victory over the Portland Trail Blazers (13-2) here at home. The Blazers are now Western Conference contenders that look like a team primed to make a run in the playoffs.
This will serve as the rubber match for the Suns and Blazers giving one team vindication.
These are two very different teams now and the Suns are a team that you have to get up for. In the season opener the Blazers did not get up for them and lacked the energy and effort required to beat teams that play with great energy. It was easier to look at the Suns as the roll over tanking team that they were once thought to be, but now things are different.
The Blazers are the third best three-point shooting team, spreading the ball around between Wesley Matthews (45 made threes), Damian Lillard (41), Nicolas Batum (35), Mo Williams (17), and Dorell Wright (12) behind the arc.
On the other had the Suns defend the three as well as any team in the league giving up only 5.4 threes a game (16.4 points) limiting teams to tough shots at the rim against their athletic shot-blockers. They chase three point shooters off the line and do a quality job closing out on shooters.
Eric Bledsoe is expected to make his return tonight, but is still listed as day-to-day for now.
(Recent) History Lesson
104-91, Suns Win
90-89, Blazers Win
The two games this year were not alike in any ways. In the first game the Suns came out with energy and ran the Blazers out of the gym behind a special performance for Miles Plumlee. Then, in the second game, the Blazers took advantage of a poor defensive rotation and won at the buzzer with the easiest game winner Lillard will ever see in his career. Again, the rubber match.
Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)
Suns: 100.0 PPG (6 wins)
Blazers: 98.25 PPG (6 wins)
These two teams are dead even over the past four seasons reading small winning streaks as well as jabs, like this year. At full strength these two teams match-up well against each other and seem to play tough, entertaining close games as of late...
Head-to-Head (Career versus the Suns/Blazers)
LaMarcus Aldridge: 16.9 PPG 6.3 RPG 1.06 BPG 45.6 FG% (31 games)
Channing Frye: 9.2 PPG 5.9 RPG 0.7 BPG 44.0 FG% (22 games)
For his second and third years in the NBA Frye was a mentor and teacher for Aldridge before he blossomed into the star that he is today. Against the Suns, for some reason, Aldridge seems to struggle being below his career averages in nearly every statistical category against the Suns. Frye on the other hand is consistent no matter the opponent right at his career averages against the Blazers.
PG - Goran Dragic v. Damain Lillard
SG - Gerald Green v. Wesley Matthews
SF - P.J. Tucker v. Nicolas Batum
PF - Channing Frye v. LaMarcus Aldridge
C - Miles Plumlee v. Robin Lopez
Potential Suns Inactives: Eric Bledsoe (Left Ankle, Gametime Decision), Alex Len (Left Ankle, Game-to-Game), and Emeka Okafor (Neck, Out Indefinitely)
Potential Blazers Inactives: C.J. McCollum (Right Foot Surgery, Out)
Plumlee vs. Lopez
These two are the compliments to their more talented counterparts on the court, but they are very important to the balance and flow of the offense and defense. In the first game of the season the Suns dominated behind the great play of Plumlee and in the second game the two played to a dead heat. These two do the things that allow the athletes on the perimeter and in the paint to have freedom. Lopez, as a former Sun, always draws an emotional response from the fans in the Valley, which always makes his return fun.
Interesting Stat: Under 11 Points
The Suns have won or lost every game by 11 points or less. The first game of the season was a 13 point margin and the last game was a 15 point margin, but other than that the games have been close all the way. At home the games are even closer (7.16) points per game.
Meaningless Stat:1-9 FG (0-4 3PT)
Those were Mo Williams shooting numbers from the first game of the season. Since then he is averaging 10.1 points a game off the bench shooting 46.6% from the field and 40% from three. The opening game was an abortion on what is clearly becoming a good situation with Williams as the Blazers Sixth Man.