Miller, McMillan believe Blazers still have a chance

TUALATIN, Ore. — Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said it was like watching Game 2 all over again. On repeat. In slow motion.

Phoenix shooting guard Jason Richardson scored at will, disguising himself in the Suns’ transition offense, then reappearing just in time to set up behind the 3-point line and knock down yet another long-range basket.

Phoenix point guard Steve Nash carved through Portland’s interior defense, using screen-and-roll plays to either set up open teammates or drop in soft floaters.

Meanwhile, the Suns outscrapped and outmuscled the Blazers, dictating the tempo and flow of the game.

The barrage lasted just two quarters. But the damage was more than enough. Phoenix was up 66-37 by halftime of Game 3.

Another slow Portland start; another Suns victory.

Now, Phoenix holds a 2-1 lead in a Western Conference best-of-seven first-round playoff series. Game 4 is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today at the Rose Garden.

The contest borders on the edge of a must-win for the Blazers. To gain a victory, regain momentum, and capture confidence, Portland must avoid another first-half letdown. The Suns outscored the Blazers 66-42 during the first quarter of Games 2-3, and led by a combined 43 points by halftime.

“We’ve got to get that sense of urgency right from the start of the game,” McMillan said. “And for the last two games, we haven’t been able to do that. … We’ve got to do it. We’re down. We’re behind now.”

Blazers guard Andre Miller said he has been somewhat surprised by his team’s recent tendency to start slow. But Miller added that it as much Phoenix beating Portland to the punch as it is the Blazers failing to swing.

After Portland knocked off the Suns on the road in Game 1, Phoenix answered with a series of offensive and defensive adjustments. But the biggest change the Suns made was the simplest. Phoenix started doing what it does best: running.

“They’re leaking out. We’ve got to get more guys back to cover their transition, and force them to play a little bit of half court,” Miller said. “But you’ve got to get them credit. They’re double teaming; they’re rotating. And when the shot goes up, those wing guys are getting out and running hard.”

McMillan said he believes Portland still has a chance in the series, though, and is encouraged by the Blazers outscoring the Suns 52-42 during the second half of Game 3.

Meanwhile, Miller said even with All-Star guard Brandon Roy injured and out of the lineup, and starting forward Nicolas Batum nursing a sprained right shoulder, Portland still has enough weapons left to win.

But the Blazers must return to basics, address two games’ worth of serious slippage, and right the ship — fast.

“It’s not too often you look at the playoff scoreboard and you see a team get blown out twice,” Miller said. “But you put those games behind you. And you continue to keep working hard, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”

McMillan said Batum will be a game-time decision for tonight’s contest. Batum reinjured his shoulder during the second quarter of Portland’s Game 3 loss to Phoenix. … Suns forward Amare Stoudemire was assessed with a flagrant foul 1 for throwing an elbow at Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge in Game 3. … Gentry said a Suns home victory over Dallas on Jan. 28 was the point when Phoenix turned its season — and its defense — around. During a nationally televised game, Mavericks guard Jason Terry said Dallas should be able to score at will because the Suns do not defend. Gentry then played a recording of Terry’s words for Phoenix. “I think they took that to heart,” Gentry said. “I told them, I said, ‘Hey, this is the perception of our team in the NBA. This is what they’re saying.’ ” Phoenix is 30-8 since rallying to defeat Dallas.

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Today’s Game
Suns vs. Blazers, 1:30 p.m. at Rose Garden
Western Conference first-round playoff series
Suns lead, 2-1
TV: TNT (54), KGW (8)
Radio: 95.5 FM
Probable Starters
Position/player Ht. Pts.
G Andre Miller 6-2 18.0
G Rudy Fernandez 6-6 7.3
F Nicolas Batum 6-8 11.0
F LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 16.7
C Marcus Camby 6-11 5.3
G Steve Nash 6-3 17.0
G Jason Richardson 6-6 28.3
F Grant Hill 6-8 10.7
F Amare Stoudemire 6-10 18.7
C Jarron Collins 6-11 0.7

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