For the so-called awakening of Trail Blazer basketball after its 6-month hibernation, I sure feel pretty familiar already with the Phoenix Suns. It must be like one of those dreams so vivid that when you wake up, you have an Usher song stuck in your head and there’s a dead body in your bathtub. What I mean is that after seeing the Suns beat the Blazers two summer league contests and one preseason game, I still can’t tell the Morris twins apart but I do have some vague malice towards P.J. Tucker to go with a little bit of fear of the offensive potential of Goran Dragic, Channing Frye, and Archie Goodwin. For a team expected throughout the offseason to be among the worst in the NBA, the Suns haven’t looked that bad – at least against the Blazers.
When watching preseason games, there’s always a comforting voice in the background to gently remind that the real games will look different. Don’t worry, the lineups and actions and varied levels of execution will all be better in the real games, it says in its a reassuring tone. With the Blazers though, that might not be entirely the case. Coach Terry Stotts did spend plenty of time experimenting with lineups in the preseason, as he admitted, but the groups that he played in the latter section of the preseason schedule looked suspiciously realistic. While the team did carve up opponents during that same stretch, dreams of devastating offensive creations built around LaMarcus Aldridge at center and Dorrell Wright at the 4 still seem to inhabit only my dreamscape. But nonetheless, learning or confirming how Stotts plans on using his lineup this season should be one of the main insights from this first regular season game.
For a playoff hopeful like the Blazers, this is the kind of game they need to win consistently throughout the season. Meanwhile for a hopeful lottery winner like the Suns, this is the kind of game they will need to lose consistently throughout the season to fulfill their goal of drafting one of the top-five messiahs next June. But the Suns players may not be as spiritless and failure-driven as the Suns management. Eric Bledsoe, acquired from the Clippers over the summer, will want to prove this season that he’s more than just an athletic backup and that he can stand comfortably with some the elite point guards in the entire league — one of which he’ll be playing against tonight in Damian Lillard. Plus, Bledsoe was portrayed calling LeBron James in the latest feature-length commercial from Samsung, for whatever that’s worth. Bledsoe’s backcourt mate Goran Dragic has shown that while giving up Steve Nash to turn the reigns over to Dragic may have been a bit too bold, the Slovenian guard certainly has the ability for some big scoring nights. Even backup, and former Kentucky Wildcat, Archie Goodwin brings some additional scoring talent to the wing position, albeit packaged in a frame that might weigh 85 lbs soaking wet.
Where the Suns gave Portland the most trouble though in the meetings over the summer and early autumn were with the versatility of the big men. Markieff Morris, his twin brother Marcus, and former Trail Blazer Channing Frye (back after missing last season with a heart issue), can all step outside and hit jumpers, which the Portland bigs were not comfortable defending. Also apt to step outside in another sense of the term is Phoenix’s bulldog of a small forward, P.J. Tucker, who seemed to involve himself in at least a few of the skirmishes that curiously plagued the preseason meeting between these two squads. Maybe leave Tucker alone this time. It’s only the first game and nobody wants to end up a body in P.J.’s bathtub.