Trail Blazers-Suns Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 20, 2012
Three straight wins have the Portland Trail Blazers feeling they're headed in the right direction. Three consecutive losses have the Phoenix Suns about to change theirs. Portland looks to continue its rejuvenation on offense against arguably the league's worst defensive team Wednesday night with a visit to Phoenix, which could test a new-look lineup. A victory would give the Blazers (5-5) their longest winning streak and first set of back-to-back road wins since March 2011. They had dropped four in a row before this three-game run. "We won the last three games and we needed to," said Damian Lillard, who leads all rookies with 19.0 points and 6.1 assists per game. He's the first player to post averages that high through his first 10 games since Isiah Thomas in 1981. "We dropped three at home and it was important for us to try to get back to .500 with three winnable games. Now we have to try to go get another one on the road." That appears very possible considering how the Suns (4-7) have played. They would match their longest home losing streak of the past eight years with a third straight defeat in Phoenix on Wednesday. No team is giving up more points per game (104.3) or a worse 3-point percentage (43.2). Portland has been among the NBA's top 3-point shooting teams (38.5 percent), including Nicolas Batum hitting 20 of 41 over the past five games while averaging 25.0 points. The Blazers have scored more than 100 points in every game during the win streak while hitting 49.8 percent from the field. They shot 40.4 percent in their previous six games and surpassed 95 points only once. "It feels good, getting our juices going, our confidence going," Wesley Matthews said after scoring 21 in a 102-94 win over Chicago on Sunday. "We're finally playing like a team that knows how to win." The Suns certainly aren't, failing to lead after the first quarter or at halftime in any of their last six games. They didn't score for the first 4:13 on Saturday in a 97-88 home loss to Miami. "We can't keep playing like this," coach Alvin Gentry said. "We have to do something where we can make an adjustment and we'll see what can happen from here." One adjustment could be changing the starting lineup, something Gentry suggested Saturday with his team having three days off between games. He wasn't specific, but it seems there are many possibilities. While center Marcin Gortat has totaled 10 points over the last two games, veteran reserve Jermaine O'Neal has 22 points and 11 rebounds in that span after sitting out six games (family matter). Luis Scola averaged 18.8 points and 10.0 rebounds in his previous four games before playing less than 15 minutes Saturday and scoring three points. Backup Markieff Morris had a season-high 16. While Jared Dudley has averaged 6.7 points during the losing streak, sixth man Shannon Brown is the team's third-leading scorer (13.4) despite averaging 22.3 minutes. Michael Beasley is the only starter shooting below 40 percent from the field (36.2). "No matter if you start, no matter if you come off the bench, you have to play with energy," Beasley said. "... We have to play like we want to win. We can't decide we want to win halfway through the second quarter, we're not that good yet. So if (Gentry) changes the starting lineup, that's his decision." The Blazers have lost three straight in Phoenix, including two last season by a combined 43 points.
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