The Scouting Report: at Phoenix Suns
Projected starting line-up: Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Alex Len
Injuries: Brandon Knight (ankle) questionable
Key departures: Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas
The Phoenix Suns are holding on for dear life in the Western Conference playoff race. Technically still alive in the race for the eighth seed, the Suns find themselves three games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder with just 10 games to go. And while they were playing well recently, racking up wins against the Rockets and Mavericks, they dropped a crucial game they should have won at home to the Kings.
DeMarcus Cousins dominated them on the inside and six other Kings scored in double figures. It was a balanced effort from the Kings but for a team with playoff aspirations, a home loss to a lottery team is something they could ill-afford.
The Suns are still a dangerous team but their playoff hopes definitely took a major hit with the loss to the lowly Kings.
The Suns are also in a much different form from the last time we saw them. Gone are two of the players that gave Portland troubles over the last two seasons in Dragic and Thomas. Thomas was instant offense on the bench even though he wasn’t a great presence on the defensive end. Dragic is one of the best at getting to the rim.
The best player that the Suns acquired on the crazy deadline day that saw Thomas and Dragic leave the Valley of the Sun is Brandon Knight. Knight is a scoring point guard with good size on the defensive end. But an ankle injury has kept him out for the last seven games and he is questionable for tonight.
Young Archie Goodwin has been getting a lot of extended run recently and he’s getting crucial experience during this final stretch of the regular season. Len left the last game against the Blazers and back-up center Brandan Wright is one of the better values you can find at that position. Portland’s pick and roll defense, especially on the second unit, is going to be tested by Wright’s rolling threat.
The Blazers got a needed win against a shorthanded Jazz team on Wednesday. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t have to be. The Suns will be a much tougher test. Bledsoe’s ball pressure is always an issue for anybody and he can really bother Lillard on that end. Portland has often had to put bigger defenders like Nicolas Batum on him as the game progresses.
Whether Batum plays or not tonight is another question. He was apparently given the OK to play as he dressed and warmed up but evidently the back was not good enough for him to give it a full go. Allen Crabbe got the start and started to play with confidence again. He wasn’t perfect, but perhaps it would behoove the Blazers to give him more run and play through mistakes.
McCollum has lit up the nets recently but if Crabbe can continue finding his bearings, he has the potential to be the type of two-way player that could really elevate the Blazers off the bench in light of the absence of Wesley Matthews. He did a pretty decent job guarding Trey Burke down the stretch of the win against Utah and he’s shot decently well from the perimeter. He also has an emerging pick and roll game but it’s still a work in progress.
The Blazers have 12 games left and their magic number for clinching the division is now down to six. Meaning that any combination of Blazers wins and Thunder losses that add up to six clinches the division and the fourth seed. The Blazers still have an outside shot at the 3rd seed, trailing the Rockets by two games. But with the Spurs sitting in the 6th seed, it’s not exactly a secret Portland wouldn’t want to see them in the first round.