The quest for the Larry O’Brien trophy begins April 18 for the Phoenix Suns. Their first round match up will be against the injury devastated Portland Trailblazers. The Suns pushed themselves the last fourth of the season to get an advantageous seeding, and it couldn’t have paid off more.
At this point, Steve Nash and crew should be making some form of sacrifice to the basketball Gods.
Brandon Roy, the Blazers’ three time All-Star, is listed as doubtful for the playoffs after suffering a meniscus tear in his right knee. They will not only miss his 21.5 points per game, but his irreplaceable leadership.
Portland centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla will be injured during the post-season as well. While they weren’t big scores for the Blazers, they were pivotal rebounders and energetic players.
LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers second-leading scorer at 17.9 points per game, missed the last game of the season with a gastrointestinal virus. You almost want him to return at full health to make the play-offs match interesting – almost.
It’s comforting to know that Phoenix basically has an 80 percent chance of advancing to the second round of the play-offs, but they still have to stay focused.
Roy has the possibility to return, but even if he doesn’t, Portland could still sneak up on a cocky Phoenix team (let’s not forget the lesson that the Houston Rockets taught us this season).
Portland’s starting point guard Andre Miller is a proven veteran. The post-season is where players like him start to find that seventh gear. He’ll run faster, play harder, and shoot like a man possessed.
He also provides a decent match-up for Nash. Nash will have to chase him around base line screens, and watch out for his quick hands. Miller averaged 1.15 steals per game during the regular season. He’ll likely try to exceed this stat during the play-offs.
Phoenix shooting guard Jason Richardson will be a vital player during the entire play-offs. The Suns are 26-4 when he scores 20 points or more. Expect this trend to continue if Richardson can surpass his season average of 15.7 points per game.
This should be feasible for Richardson. If Roy remains out, then Rudy Fernandez will be his main defender. Fernandez is a respectable three-point shooter, but lacks Richardson’s athleticism and strength.
Marcus Camby, who the Blazers acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers, still has enough gas in the tank to give the Suns difficulty. Camby has lost some of his leaping ability at 36 years old, but still averaged two blocks per game during the regular season.
Portland will likely use Camby, and at times Aldridge, to stifle Phoenix power forward Amar’e Stoudemire. This will be a daunting challenge, even for a savvy player like Camby. It will be the kind of story he’ll tell his grandchildren next to a roaring campfire. Stoudemire will play the beast, and Camby will play the victim in peril.
If the Suns focus and play to their ability, then the Blazers will have all the extra time they need to heal from their nagging injuries. If the Suns enter the post-season with a lackadaisical attitude, then fans will be left wondering what could have been.