Thursday NBA on TNT Preview: Phoenix at Portland
by Matt Severance - 03/25/2009
Spots 2-7 in the Western Conference are a jumbled mess with about three weeks left in the NBA season, so every game is important for a team like the Portland Trail Blazers. Entering Wednesday's NBA action, the Blazers were seventh in the West but just 2.5 games behind San Antonio for No. 2. Basically, it appears that any team that can put together a decent winning streak to close the season can claim that coveted second spot out West.
As for Phoenix, it would love to just be in the conversation, but the Suns entered their game Wednesday night against Utah on the outside looking in and needing a minor miracle to catch Dallas at No. 8.
Thus, Phoenix needs Thursday's win in Portland more, and the Suns have had some success against the Blazers so far this year and in recent seasons. The first two meetings this year were in Phoenix, and the Suns won both of them, going 2-0 ATS. That gave Phoenix an 11-game winning streak against Portland and nine in a row at home. Amare Stoudemire was a big reason for that streak, which dated to March 2006, but of course he is out now for the season for Phoenix. And the Suns' Leandro Barbosa remains out this week.
The Blazers ended their funk against the Suns with a 124-119 home win on Dec. 18, but even that took Brandon Roy's career-high 52 points to do so. It was the second-most points in Blazers history.
That brings us to Thursday's final regular-season matchup at the Rose Garden, where Portland has lost just twice in the past 15 games, although one of those was to the 76ers on Monday night, 114-108, in overtime. Roy had just 12 points against Philly, ending his streak of consecutive 20-point or more games at 12. In a a positive sign for Portland, Greg Oden had one of his better games of the year in his first home game since the All-Star break, scoring 18 points, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking two shots in 25 minutes.
"I thought Greg was active," Coach Nate McMillan said to reporters. "Blocking some shots, cleaning up the offensive glass, and just being a presence in the paint. It's the best we've seen him play in a while."
Portland attempted a season-high 101 shots in the game (34 from three-point range, with just 10 makes) to Philly's 74, which is an amazing discrepancy for a losing team. The loss dropped Portland to 30-4 when scoring 100 points or more in a game. The Blazers are generally great in close games at 8-1 yet are now just 1-4 in overtime games.
One injury note from that game was that the Blazers' Travis Outlaw suffered a sprained right pinky finger, although X-rays are negative. It's not clear as of this writing if he will play Thursday, although he has been re-replaced in the starting lineup by Nicolas Batum, who returned from a two-game injury absence on Monday.
Portland has been off since Monday which should be a huge advantage over the Suns, who have to travel from Arizona after Wednesday's game. The Blazers are 17-4 against teams in their second half of a back-to-back and 4-1 ATS in their past five games following two days off, but Phoenix is 5-0 ATS in its past five in Portland. However, the Suns are also 0-8 ATS in their past eight Thursday games.