The Phoenix Suns are in Portland to face their long-time pals, the Trail Blazers. The two teams met for the first game of the season back in October in a contest that foreshadowed what would quickly become the Suns' biggest weakness so far this season: lack of size and strength to defend the paint and rebound. The Blazers won that game with a hot shooting fourth quarter, but also killed the Suns on the glass 48-30, which put the Suns in a statistical hole for rebounding differential that they've yet to climb out of.
The Suns are -5.80 in that category, which is last in the league, but at least they are moving in the right direction thanks to the insertion of Earl Barron into the starting lineup, along with the schedule delivering some lesser quality opponents after a touch opening stretch. The Suns are +2 in total rebounding differential over their current three-game win streak, which came at the expense of the Warriors, Pacers and Wizards.
Having Barron in the lineup hasn't caused the Suns offense to stutter too much despite Barron's own 8-32 shooting performance. Steve Nash is certainly willing to sacrifice some firepower for what Barron brings.
"Earl Barron has been great. It just shows you what an active big can do. You have someone out there who's hustling and playing and giving us some size and strength it just adds to our defense and rebounding and those are obviously Achilles heels for our team," Nash said.
The Trail Blazers are having their own issues this season, including a recent six-game losing streak that they only just managed to break by beating the lowly Clippers at home on Sunday. Portland has once again been beset by injuries that seem to be focused on knees.
Someone closer to that team will have to answer if there's some kind of systemic problem with the Blazers' approach to dealing with injuries. For now, the Suns still feel like Brandon Roy, at least, is a threat and the return of Joel Przybilla to their lineup will help Portland as it allows LaMarcus Aldridge to play his natural power forward position instead of having to try and cover at the center.
"They still have Brandon Roy, and I know he's banged up a little bit, but even banged up he's going to get you 22 to 25 points a game, so it's a challenge," Alvin Gentry said.
Roy's shooting percentage (.419), however, is the lowest of his career and his 18.1 points per game is the lowest since his rookie season. Over his last ten games, Roy has scored more than 20 points just three times and has scored less than 10 points three times.
One thing the Suns won't have to worry about is Andre Miller, who was suspended one game by the NBA for a cheap hit he put on Blake Griffin. With Miller on the floor, the Suns have been forced to play Grant Hill on him and try and "hide" Nash on other off-ball players like Nicolas Batum. That worked in the playoffs last year because the Blazers didn't try and take advantage of Batum on Nash, but in the October game, they went to him more and Batum finished with 19 points. Nic Batum will get the start for Portland in place of Miller, with Wes Matthews and Brandon Roy in the back court.
The Suns are 11-9 headed into the game while the Blazers are 9-11. The game starts at 8:00 p.m. Arizona time and will be broadcast locally on UPN My45 in Phoenix. Fans can follow along with the live game thread at Bright Side of the Sun.