Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 12/22/12
Back to .500 The Portland Trail Blazers managed to take down the Denver Nuggets in a gritty, ugly game Thursday night, and that win is what put them back to .500 on the season. Matchup: Portland (12-12) vs. Phoenix Suns (11-15) Venue: Rose Garden Time: 7:00 PM PT Date: Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 The Blazers are barely on the outside looking in when it comes to the current playoff picture, which means they must defeat every inferior opponent they face, starting with the Phoenix Suns. Game Notes/How They Match Up Damian Lillard will match up against Goran Dragic for the second time this season. (Photo: Ross Franklin/AP) The Trail Blazers have already faced off against the Suns once this season, and it’s safe to say that Phoenix got the better of the team on their own home floor. They took down Portland 114-87, ending a three-game winning streak for the team from Rip City. Like the Blazers, Phoenix is decent on the offensive side of the floor and toward the bottom of the league on defense. Both squads allow around 100 points per contest, and both struggle to win when their shots aren’t falling. Both of these teams allow a lot of points in the paint, and both are 12th and 13th respectively at scoring at the rim. This is going to be an evenly matched battle between two rebuilding teams, but it’s Portland who has the star power on their side at this point in the process. What to Watch: Portland Portland did a magnificent job of defending the three-point line against the Denver Nuggets. Sure, Denver missed a number of wide-open opportunities, but for the most part, the Blazers read the scouting report and they knew who to defend and who to leave open. The problem is, they allowed 74 points in the paint, which isn’t a recipe for success against most NBA squads. The Suns are around the middle of the league in both categories, so Portland must find a middle ground when it comes to where to defend. Stopping the long ball is going to be an important part of the game plan, but clogging the middle will be what takes away the easy buckets. What to Watch: Phoenix Like the Nuggets, the Suns don’t have one go-to option on the offensive side of the floor. They’re very balanced in their starting lineup, and they know how to blend their starters with their reserves for production throughout a game. For this reason, the Blazers need to keep an eye on Phoenix’s second unit, and make sure that they don’t take complete advantage of their own reserves. The Suns have the ninth-highest scoring bench in the NBA, while Portland is dead last. J.J. Hickson will match up against Marcin Gortat in Saturday’s game. The Blazers have begun to see more production as the season goes on, but without a good performance on Saturday, they’ll be bullied off the floor. Key Matchup The easy choice for the key matchup in this one is Damian Lillard versus Goran Dragic. In the first meeting between these two, Damian Lillard was the better scorer, Dragic was the better facilitator and the two teams played behind the leadership of the floor generals. This time around, though, the more intriguing matchup is going to be at the center position. J.J. Hickson missed the last matchup between these two teams, and he’ll have a chance to show the Suns what he can do against Marcin Gortat. J.J. Hickson has been full of great performances this season. He’s coming off an 18-point, 18-rebound showing against the Nuggets, and his game before that was a 24-point, 16-rebound showing against the New Orleans Hornets. Gortat is more of a true center, but Hickson has been making the hustle plays to make up for his size all season. These two players will battle on the boards all game long, but on offense Hickson has a chance to shine if he can spread the floor with his jump shot. Injury Report Portland: DAY-TO-DAY—Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Freeland Phoenix: N/A Prediction The Blazers have won four straight games heading into Saturday’s contest, and whether they have LaMarcus Aldridge or not, the momentum is in their favor against the Suns. Blazers 111 – Suns 101 CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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