The Phoenix Suns are suddenly on a two-game winning streak after firing head coach Earl Watson and banishing malcontent Eric Bledsoe. The Suns are coming off a convincing 97-88 win over the Utah Jazz at home. TJ Warren led the way with 27 points while Alex Len and Tyler Ulis each had 13 points off the bench. Star shooting guard Devin Booker has yet to get going this season though and is averaging just under 18 points on 41 percent shooting.
As for the Portland Trail Blazers, they suffered a devastating 104-103 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last time out courtesy of Blake Griffin’s buzzer-beating three-pointer. The Blazers received solid games from their outstanding backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who combined for 48 points. However, Jusuf Nurkic has yet to break out of his early-season slump. He is averaging just 12 points and eight rebounds and shooting under 40 percent through five games.
Three keys to the game
Unleash the Bosnian Beast – The Blazers have a top-five offensive rating in the league at the moment despite Nurkic’s slow start. He had just 11 points in 23 minutes in the Blazers’ 48-point opening night demolition of the Suns. If he can finally get back on track, the Blazers should be in good shape for another comfortable win.
Suns’ backcourt production – Booker has been fairly inconsistent in terms of his production this season, while the point guard platoon of Mike James and Tyler Ulis will have ups and downs. Those three will need to have one of their good days against Portland in order for the Suns to produce enough offense to make this game interesting.
Defense – The Suns had a strong defensive showing against the Jazz, but the jury remains out on them, especially after their catastrophically bad start to the year which saw them lose by 48 to the Blazers. On the flipside, the Blazers are proving that their defensive resurgence is no fluke, and are currently in the top five in defensive efficiency as well. If they can once again limit Booker to another 12-point, 6-of-17 shooting performance like their first meeting, the Suns likely won’t stand a chance.
Matchup to watch
Devin Booker vs CJ McCollum – Booker was a no-show in the first meeting, while McCollum was suspended for that game. The two incredibly gifted scorers will finally get the chance to go at it tonight, although the pressure will mostly be on Booker to perform and provide enough offense for the Suns to remain competitive on the road.
Suns projected starting lineup
PG – Mike James | SG – Devin Booker | SF – TJ Warren | PF – Marquese Chriss | C – Tyson Chandler
Blazers projected starting lineup
PG – Damian Lillard | SG – CJ McCollum | SF – Maurice Harkless | PF – Al-Farouq Aminu | C – Jusuf Nurkic
The Suns were a sieve against point guards even with Eric Bledsoe playing, and neither James nor Ulis stands much of a chance of stopping Lillard from getting his. Dame Dolla had a strong night with 27 points, five rebounds, five assists, three blocks and four threes in his first meeting with Phoenix, and he did that all in just 30 minutes. Given the caliber of defenders that will be on him all night, expect more of the same level of production from the Blazers star.
While the Blazers were clearly dominant in their last meeting and remain the much better team, these Suns have a bit more confidence in this matchup. They could prove much tougher to put away, even at home. As such, look for the Suns to cover the 10.5-point spread on the road.
The Blazers beat the Suns again, 110-102, but the Suns put up a much stronger fight.
This game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Northwest and Fox Sports Arizona. Tip-off is at 10:00 pm ET.
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