After their victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night, the Suns begin a lengthy stretch of games against tough opponents, a part of their schedule which could help decide their playoff fate in the Western Conference.
That tough stretch of games will begin tonight when the Suns take on the Portland Trail Blazers from US Airways Center. Portland currently stands at 31-11, good for second in the Western Conference and the third best record in all of basketball.
The Blazers do most of their best work at home where they are they are 19-4, but they are pretty good away from Moda Center as well. The Blazers are 12-7 away from home.
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For the second straight game, the Suns are once getting bit of a break. Portland will be without LaMarcus Aldridge after he injured his thumb in the Blazers victory on Monday. There is no timetable on his return as the star power forward is scheduled to have a MRI later in the week.
Aldridge won’t be the only big man that Portland will be missing. Former Sun Robin Lopez has been out with a broken hand for more than a month and won’t play in this one. Joel Freeland will be in street clothes as well as he’s been out the last couple of weeks because of a shoulder injury.
With the three big men out, Chris Kaman and Meyers Leonard will see a bump up in minutes. In his third season in the league after being drafted 11th overall in the 2012 draft, Leonard has been slow to develop for Portland. Thomas Robinson, who has not gotten a lot of playing time this season, will see minutes as well.
No Aldridge means that star point guard Damian Lillard will have to take a bigger role on the offensive end of the court, a role that he is more than capable of doing.
Only in his third season in the league, Lillard has quietly turned into one of the better point guards in the league. In 42 games this year, the former Weber State product is averaging 22.1 points, 6.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds while shooting just under 45 percent from the field.
Lillard’s backcourt mate, Wesley Matthews, is a pretty good player in his own right. The 28-year-old is averaging 16.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists while averaging just under 34 minutes per contest. Matthews is one of the better three-point shooters in the league as he is making 39 percent of his shots from behind the arc.
The last Blazers player to keep an eye on is Nicolas Batum. The frenchman has struggled so far this season due mostly to a bad wrist. Batum is averaging his lowest point total (8.9 points per game) since his rookie season and he’s really struggled with his shot, shooting only 39 percent from the field and a poor 26 percent from three-point land.
Let’s hope that trend continues.
With Aldridge sidelined, this game certainly becomes that much more winnable for the Suns. He may not get the national recognition like other players do, but Aldridge is one of the better power forwards in the league and a legit MVP candidate, so the Blazers are going to miss him for however long he’s out for.
Lillard is going to get his fair share of points, he’s just that good, but if the Suns can make sure that no one else goes off, they should be able to earn another victory and remain perfect at home during these big stretch of games.