Live from the Moda Center as the Portland Trail Blazers host the Phoenix Suns.
Back to full(ish) strength and fresh off stemming a three-game losing streak, Rip City was probably expecting to flex its frontcourt muscle tonight against one of the worst rebounding teams in The Association. No need for those rumored reinforcements just yet, right?
Not so fast. Yes, Robin Lopez is back in the lineup, but Portland's edge down low is suddenly less clearcut with the late scratch of center Chris Kaman. And while RoLo's return would typically almost instantly transform the Blazers from outreboundees to outrebounders, the big man's match fitness after missing 23 games will be tested tonight against a Phoenix side that loves to run. Translation: If your favorite Blazer is Meyers Leonard, you might want to tune in to TNT! (They know drama.)
Unhappy-go-unlucky Phoenix, meanwhile, is coming off losses to the class of the conference, and the Suns might still be reeling a bit after a loss even a guy from a blog called "Bright Side of the Suns" described as "shattering, soul crushing, [and] stomach churning."
Mmmm...who's hungry for some hoops? Hearty helpings all around—after the jump.
Phoenix (28-22, 8th in West)—Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic on guard. PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris up front. Alex Len in the middle.
On the bench: Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Ennis, Zoran Dragic, TJ Warren, Gerald Green, Marcus Morris, Archie Goodwin, Miles Plumlee, Reggie Bullock, Brandan Wright.
Portland (33-16, 4th in West)—Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews on guard. Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge up front. Robin Lopez in the middle.
On the bench: Dorrell Wright, CJ McCollum, Will Barton, Meyers Leonard, Victor Claver, Allen Crabbe, Steve Blake,
Chris Kaman, Thomas Robinson.
Every seat in the arena has a red "Rip City" T-shirt draped over its back, a bit of swag for fans to "Go Red For Women"—a women's heart health initiative by American Heart Association.
Lopez picked the warmup music, which was Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel." For the record, that's far less weird of a choice than I was expecting.
Am I getting older, or is the volume during pregame everything almost unhealthily loud at this point? Just because the stereo goes to 11, doesn't mean you have to put it there.
FIRST QUARTER Suns wearing white, Blazers in red. Phoenix wins the tip.
11:16—Blazers shoot a trio of 3-point shots on their first possession but come up empty.
10:28—Portland strikes first as Batum lays it in off a long pass from Matthews. We won't have a double shutout, though a sloppy start for both sides.
9:44—Dragic with a wide-open three from the wing and it's good. His foot looked close to the line there, but they call it a 3.
8:50—Aldridge is getting lots of pressure every time he touches the ball. Phoenix must've heard he made All-Stars? LA gets free and fires a short jumper that rattles out, but Lopez is there to rebound and lay it in.
6:15—Timeout on the floor, and it's a merciful one. Really choppy action so far with both teams shooting poorly. Blazers lead 6-5, but they've hardly taken advantage of the Suns' four turnovers.
4:20—Batum strong to the hoop and fouled after a steal. Blazers are beating the Suns at their own game—fast breakin'. Batum hits both free throws to give Portland a 14-7 lead.
3:09—Batum passes on a shot and feeds Aldridge down low. He goes to the hoop and spins to bank one in, and Phoenix calls a timeout. Blazers up 18-9 and the Suns are struggling, shooting just 28% with six turnovers. If the Blazers were shooting better than 35% right now this would be much uglier.
2:47—Lillard comes off a pick and takes a pass from Aldridge at the top of the key. He fakes a shot and drives to the hoop for the pretty double-clutch layup to give Portland a nine-point lead.
1:20—Blake on the break and he finds Leonard sprinting up the middle for a big dunk. Blazers up 22-13 and Phoenix turns it over once again. Their eighth.
1:06—Matthews makes the Suns pay for that TO, hitting a 3-ball. Blazers up their lead to 10.
0:00—Blazers lead 27-15 behind a 19-8 run to close the quarter and six points each from Batum and Aldridge. Phoenix is struggling on both ends of the floor—they're shooting just 33% and have been hampered eight turnovers compared to just two fast-break points.
12:00—From my seat in 113, Terry Stotts and Jeff Hornacek look like doppelgängers of each other. They should really have their own State Farm ad.
11:36—McCollum with a 3-ball, and Portland is doubling up Phoenix, 30-15. It's not often that you can say the game is uglier than the score would suggest when one team is up 15, but the game is uglier than the score would suggest. Suns getting bad shots at the end of possessions, and those shots have mostly been clangers. Ugly.
9:40—McCollum with nice drive to the hoop for a layup. Went right after Dragic there and Portland is on a 9-0 run to start this quarter.
8:35—Phoenix finally scores this quarter and it was worth the wait: Bledsoe finds a sprinting Wright on the break for an alley-oop. Timeout on the floor, Blazers still up 15.
6:45—Suns on the break and Morris attempts a dunk on the wide-open basket...but nope. Blazers get it, but on the counter, Lillard steps out of bounds.
5:57—McCollum drives to the hoop +1 and we'll have another timeout. McCollum keying the offense now, and the Blazers are up 14....until McCollum converts, and Portland leads 39-24.
3:33—Tucker nails a 3 from the right corner as the shot clock winds down. After a Blazer turnover, Morris with a breakaway dunk. Suns back within 10.
2:28—Phoenix takes a timeout with Portland up 43-31. McCollum is the only player on the floor in double figures as both teams are shooting less than 40% from the field.
HALFTIME: Blazers lead 46-35. And ugh, this is an ugly one, with both teams shooting right around 35%. Phoenix has 10 turnovers, but Portland has nearly caught up in that department—they have seven. McCollum and Aldridge leading the way for Portland with 10 points each. Green pacing Phoenix with seven.
The halftime show is a couple of dudes doing extreme pogo-sticking. Their hype man yells, "DO YOU GUYS LIKE BACKFLIPS ON POGO STICKS?!" I've never thought about it, but yes, I suppose I'd be amused by such an activity. Please proceed.
THIRD QUARTER Blazers ball, here we go.
10:00—The buzz on press row is that Rasheed Wallace is here. He's sitting on the near side, two rows up, directly across from the Phoenix bench. Get him on the big screen! Let him talk to a ref!
8:13—LIllard stops a 7-0 Suns run with a jumper. On the other end, Len goes down hard and is still holding his ankle. Not a good sign as his teammates are coming over to take a look during the timeout. Len looks to be in pretty serious pain, but he's walking now, however gingerly.
8:05—Big screen shows Wallace, and he's greeted with a hearty "Sheeeed" from the crowd (and maybe a few boos—WTF?!). Now crowd chanting "RA-SHEED WALL-ACE!" There ya go.
6:15—Uh, the Suns are back within a point here, folks. Phoenix came out of the half on a 13-2 run. #BlameSheed
5:20—Matthews goes strong to the hoop for the layup. Blazers back up 3, finding much more success inside than from behind the arch, where they're shooting just 9%.
3:07—Portland timeout. They're up 60-58, but Phoenix has one more free throw when we get back. Bledsoe converts, and the Suns are down one.
1:18—After a Batum turnover, the Suns get a 3-on-1 break and an easy layup. SUNS LEAD 63-62 after trailing by 19 earlier.
0:59—Phoenix's lead is short-lived: Batum hits a 3 (Portland had missed 13[!] straight) and the Blazers are back up two.
0:00—Blazers lead 66-65, though their momentum has evaporated after a sluggish third quarter. Batum leading the way with 15 points, followed by Aldridge with 13 and McCollum with 10. Both sides are shooting poorly, right around 37%. Bledsoe has 15 to lead Phoenix. Portland might want to look inside here in the fourth: They're shooting just 12% from deep.
11:20—Never listen to me. After a bunch of passes, Blake drains a 3-ball and Portland is back up four.
10:49—Blake then finds Leonard on the break and the latter lays it in. Crowd is officially into it again, and the Blazers lead by six.
9:54—Now Matthews with a 3. I'll just keep my offensive opinions to myself. Blazers up eight as their 3-point percentage rises to 18%!!!!!!!!!
7:54—Timeout on the floor, Portland up six. A trio of 3-pointers has spurred the mini-run.
6:02—Batum with a 3 from the wing after lulling the defender to sleep with a little dribbling. Some downright confident offensive play from Batum there, which is great to see if you're a Blazer fan.
5:34—Batum on the break and passes back to Leonard who flies in for a layup. Blazers up 88-75 now and appear to be pulling away from the Suns. Will Phoenix battle like Utah did the other night? I don't see it. Big night for Batum: He has 20 points and six assists, well above both his season averages of 9 and 4.6.
3:00—Aldridge splits two defenders and works his way into the lane for a layin. Blazers up 96-81 and Phoenix calls a timeout. Fans starting to stream out as Portland has this one well in hand.
2:26—Aldridge with a jumper from his happy place as the TNT crew talks about his All-Star/MVP status.
1:55—Aldridge follows up a Batum miss with a rebound and tip-back, and Portland has busted it open again. Aldridge with his 220th career double-double, the most all-time for a Blazer.
0:39.3—Both teams have emptied their benches as we play this one out.
0:22.3—Barton drains a 3, which is unnecessary, but nobody here's complaining.
FINAL: Blazers win, 108-87. Batum leads the way with 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting and seven assists, while Aldridge has 19 points and 13 rebounds. Matthews finishes with 14 and McCollum chips in 12. Morris paces the Suns with 19, followed by Bledsoe with 17.
The Suns made a decent run in the third, but Portland answered Phoenix finally taking the lead with a 21-12 run and never looked back. The Blazers shot 15-for-22 from the field (5 of 6 from long range) in the final frame after going 3 of 24 from distance through the first three quarters.
Blazers hit the road for a couple games in Texas (at Dallas on Feb. 7, at Houston on Feb. 8) before returning home on Feb. 11 against the Lakers. See you then!