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Trail Blazers Look To Finish Home Stand On High Note

12/22/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    The Trail Blazers (12-12) and the Suns (11-15) were both struggling only weeks ago.  Now, both teams find themselves in the midst of four game winning streaks. The last game between these two teams ended in a blowout and the Trail Blazers were without JJ Hickson. The tip off will be at 7PM at the Rose Garden and will be shown on CSNNW. The final game of the six game home stand can also be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

        •    It's tough to look at the previous game between these two teams and look for things that might present themselves on Saturday night. The previous match-up was incredibly lopsided and the Trail Blazers played one of, if not their worst 48 minutes of basketball of the season. The Trail Blazers allowed the Suns to shoot almost 60 percent from the field and over 40 percent from the three-point line. Jermaine O'Neal also brought 17 points off the bench and dominated in the middle. It was truly a game where the Trail Blazers missed Hickson's energy but they also lacked a collective team effort. They also shot poorly from the three point arc hitting only five of their 19 attempts.  Damian Lillard was on fire  (24 points) and tried to lead a charge but that game the Trail Blazers poor defense and lack of perimeter shooting caught up to them. Lillard had a rough game taking care of the ball as the Suns brought full court pressure many times and forced Lillard into six turnovers, which tied two other games for a season high.  The Suns also snapped a three-game Trail Blazers winning streak with the win. This time, both teams have four-game winning streaks so either way, another streak will be broken.
        
    •    LaMarcus Aldridge's (left ankle sprain) status for the Phoenix game is up in the air. He did not practice on Friday but said that his status will be a game-time decision. The Trail Blazers got by without Aldridge in the last game against a very good rebounding team. The Suns have very good rebounders in Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola and Markieff Morris. Luke Babbitt stepped up in a big way grabbing eight boards against Denver and will have to do the same against the Suns if Aldridge can't go. However, match-ups could dictate who Stotts uses, but if the Suns go small it's almost a certainly now that Stotts will turn to Babbitt for a majority of the minutes, no matter who starts the game. Joel Freeland got his first NBA start against Denver and brought energy, but the line-up of Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Hickson and Babbitt was the most effective against the Nuggets when they went small.
        
    •    The Trail Blazers need to continue to improve their defense. With a defense ranked as low as 28th in the league earlier in the season, the Trail Blazers have improved slightly to 22nd in the league. Make no mistake, this is still not a good thing but the fact that they have improved from where they were is a positive. Frankly, it's quite surprising a team so young could improve like this so early in the season, which is testament to the coaching staff and the amount of film study they do. Last week on Trail Blazers Courtside, Stotts talked about how he is doing more individual film study with the Trail Blazers than he did at other stops. It's visible too, Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland can be found frequently watching video with assistant coach Kim Hughes on a laptop or Damian Lillard will be watching film with David Vanterpool. Stotts won't give praise to the defense because they still are not a good defensive team, but the improvement is encouraging. The Trail Blazers will need to continue to improve and prevent the Suns from going off offensively like they did in Phoenix. Lillard in particular has looked much improved on defense, which will be key against a talented playmaker and scorer in Goran Dragic. Portland cannot afford to let the Suns get open shots like they did the last time and if the Suns pressure Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers other ball handlers will have to be more ready to help Lillard bring the ball into the front court if the Suns press again.

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