The Phoenix Suns were a very inconsistent team during the 2010-11 season. Their ability to both score and defend was tremendously inconsistent all season. They had dramatic up and down swings last year winning five in a row and then going on a long losing streak. The Suns had enough talent to win and make the playoffs but their inconsistency cost them. They have gotten off to a slow start this season with Steve Nash banged up, but they need to begin to play better offensively and get back on the winning track.
The Portland Trail Blazers are a well balanced team. A team that has a nice combination of youth, size, toughness and athleticism. Even after the devastating injuries to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden this team was able to land a 6th place finish last season in the Western Conference.
This season the Blazers made some nice additions to their roster. They have a very productive backcourt with pickups Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford and second year player Wesley Matthews. The Blazers have one of the best frontlines in the NBA with LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby and the addition of veteran Kurt Thomas. Look for this team to make the playoffs and win a playoff series this season.
Keys for Phoenix:
Offense improvement: The Phoenix Suns play a wide open freelance offensive style. Unfortunately, they have struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Normally they are one of the top teams in the NBA in the important offensive categories: points, fg %, 3 pt fg%, and assists, but after the first five games of the season they find themselves at the bottom of the NBA in all of those categories. Currently the Suns are 23rd in the NBA scoring (91.8) ppg, 23rd in fg% at ( .415), 24th in 3fg% at (.278) and 18th in assists at (20.4). The Suns have no chance of beating the Trail Blazers with their defense. Defense has never been a focus of Mike D’Antoni’s or Alvin Gentry’s teams in Phoenix. So the Suns must get their offensive problems fixed and fixed quickly. The problem could be as simple as Steve Nash being hurt. Or it could be a number of problems: Nash getting old and breaking down, roster is not good enough, owner does not want to spend the money to fix the roster.
Go-to scorer: The Suns are in dire need of a go-to scorer. With Nash’s age and declining abilities they cannot expect him to be that guy especially this year. This season will be grueling on young bodies and inhuman to someone of Nash’s age. The Blazers must defend the transition game of the Suns and get Nash under control in the half court. If they do not, he has the passing abilities and court vision to cause a lot of problems. But they do not have to worry about a go-to scorer on the Suns roster. They do not have a young Jason Richardson, a healthy Vince Carter or a Hedo Turkoglu in his prime. The Suns picked up Shannon Brown and he can provide energy and points but he is not a got-to player.
Healthy Nash: The Suns need Steve Nash to be healthy Friday night to have any chance of beating Portland. He has been nursing bruised ribs he suffered the first week of the season and it has drastically affected his effectiveness. He has struggled to shoot the ball and run the Suns offense. Nash pushes the ball in transition for the Suns and creates a high volume of their offense with his ball handling, vision and creativity. The Suns play a freelance type of offensive basketball and without Nash at 100% it drastically reduces their chances of success. Luckily for Suns' fan, Steve came back on Monday with a 21 point performance going 9-13 from the field with 9 assists.
Frye must step up: Channing Frye has struggled mightily in the first two weeks of the season. He is a stretch four man who has been able to open the floor and take advantage of playing with Steve Nash. Frye has been able to bring his defender away from the paint open up driving lanes for his teammates and make opponents pay from the perimeter. Frye has been a streaky shooter over his career but never has struggled to make shots as he is right now. After five games Frye is averaging only 5.4 ppg and he is shooting a woeful .231% from the field and .158 from behind the arc.
Although Frye has shot the ball miserably he has rebounded the ball extremely well for the Suns. He is their leading rebounder grabbing 8.4 rpg. However he must improve his shooting stroke if the Suns have any chance of beating the Trailblazers and continue to win games. Alvin Gentry will give him a long leash to get untracked but if he is not careful Hakim Warrick and rookie Markieff Morris are going to dip into his minutes soon.
Rookie Impact: Keep an eye on Markieff Morris. He is going to be an impact player for the Suns. Morris is averaging 9.4 ppg and 5.4 rpg for Phoenix after 5 games. Alvin Gentry is not afraid to throw Morris in games and he has been averaging 20 mpg so far this season. Morris is a warrior, who does not back down from physical contact. He has played on a big stage at Kansas and has seamlessly made the transition to the NBA. Markieff is an offensive minded power forward who scored 16 points in his last outing and had a plus/minus of +20 in his last game versus the Warriors. The Trailblazers must account for Morris when he comes into the game and match his physical, inside game with either Kurt Thomas or Lamarcus Aldridge
Keys for Portland:
Transition Defense: The Blazers are a well drilled defensive unit. Nate McMillan is an excellent defensive coach who takes pride in his team’s defensive toughness. It is imperative that the Blazers have a great effort in transition defense on Friday night. The Suns will push the ball and allow Nash to probe the defense. He will either utilize drags and step up pick and rolls or attempt to find seams in the defense to create for himself or his teammates. His attack dribble is different than some of the some one like Rose or Westbrook. Nash utilizes his tremendous vision to create offense for his team. The Blazers must get Nash under control and defend the three point line in transition in order to defeat the Suns.
Attacking Steve Nash: The Blazers must take advantage of their youth, speed and athleticism at the point guard position. Both Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford must be in attack mode all game and go at Nash and wear him down defensively. Nash is a bit banged up coming into the game and they need to take advantage of this. They need to attack him on makes and misses. They need to put him in pick and rolls and get into the paint and make sound decisions.
Pick and roll coverage: When you play the Phoenix Suns you will have to defend a ton of pick and rolls. They will run drags in transition, as well as quick step ups. In the half court they will run side, middle and angle pick and rolls trying to let Nash come off and read what the defense is giving them. It is imperative for the Blazers to guard the pick and rolls with all five defenders. The Blazers must communicate at a very high level, and get Nash under control coming off the picks. In addition the Blazers must rotate quickly with the other three weakside defenders and rotate quickly to the open pick and pop man or a spot up man on the weakside. The Suns have shot the ball poorly from the perimeter this season, but they can be dangerous at any time if the Blazers let the ball get into the paint and force the defense to have to help all game long.
Go to Aldridge: This used to be Brandon Roy’s team but now it has become LaMarcus Aldridge’s team. He is coming off career highs in both scoring and rebounding. He will be the go to player for the Blazers this year. The Blazers need to run offense through Aldridge versus the Suns and let him attack in the post and off the box. The Suns will utilize Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick and Markieff Morris versus Aldridge, but none of those three players can deal with Aldridge’s versatility. LaMarcus can stick the 18 foot jump shot or take any of the Suns inside and utilize his length and strength. Look for the Blazers to go to him early and often versus the Suns.
Bench Depth: The Blazers have tremendous talent and versatility on their bench. Crawford is one of the best sixth men in the league and can play both guard positions. Nolan Smith can defend either guard position. Nicholas Batum provides length, defense and perimeter shooting. One of the best additions to the Blazer bench is veteran Kurt Thomas who brings added toughness and experience. The Blazers need to utilize their talented bench versus the Suns and wear them down. The bench will be a big key all season with the compressed schedule and the high number of the back to back games. Look for the Blazer bench to have a big impact on Friday night’s game.