Back at home, Blazers look to regroup

The way Suns took it to Portland in Game 2 is a concern

By Brian T. Smith, Columbian Sports Writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. — After two entirely different games, the real battle has now begun. And the Portland Trail Blazers must once again regroup tonight and prove their mettle.

The Blazers’ 29-point blowout defeat to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday in Game 2 of a Western Conference first-round playoff series immediately changed a matchup that had been heavily leaning in Portland’s favor.

Phoenix shut down a Portland offense that was already limited in regards to scoring options, with injured All-Star guard Brandon Roy out of the lineup.

Meanwhile, the high-paced Suns scored at will, shooting 52.3 percent from the field while returning to the up-tempo form that made the team one of the toughest in the league during the second half of the season.

But Portland’s woeful offensive and defensive numbers in Game 2 were not the real issue, Blazers coach Nate McMillan said.

To McMillan, what really stung was the fact that Phoenix took it to Portland.

The Suns were more aggressive, more determined and more focused. And while Phoenix toughened up, the Blazers backed down.

“We’ve got to do a better job of executing; setting screens. And then using screens, and getting yourself open,” said McMillan, following a Wednesday morning practice at the team’s workout facility. “It’s just as simple as that. It can’t be that they just take you out, and we give in to the pressure or the physical play, or the trapping and denying that they’re trying to bring on the floor.”

McMillan said that Blazers starters LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Fernandez were both victims of Phoenix’s increased defensive attack. Aldridge, Portland’s No. 1 scoring option, managed just eight field-goal attempts.

Meanwhile, Fernandez continued to struggle. The second-year guard filling in for Roy took only two shots in Game 2. He is 2 of 9 from the floor in the series, and 1 of 7 behind the 3-point line.

But nowhere was the Suns’ ability to outmuscle and disrupt Portland’s game plan more clearly seen than in Phoenix forward Grant Hill shutting down Blazers point guard Andre Miller.

Hill was assigned to Miller after Jason Richardson drew the task in Game 1, when Miller scored a game-high 31 points. Miller was limited to 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting in Game 2, as Hill hounded the Blazer with full-court pressure.

Miller met with McMillan for about 10 minutes following Wednesday’s practice. Earlier in the day, McMillan acknowledged that Miller must man up and find a way to overcome Hill.

Following the meeting, Miller said that he was caught off guard by Hill’s chosen method of attack, even joking that he did not think that the 15-year veteran would be able to keep up the pace for four quarters.

But Hill did just that. And now Miller must respond.

“I think I just settled too much,” Miller said.

Not settling was a key theme Wednesday for the Blazers. After fighting all season to overcome injuries and long odds, Portland is still in control.

Beginning tonight, the Blazers have two games on their home court before the series returns to Phoenix. And as Portland’s blowout loss in Game 2 showed, momentum and confidence can heavily swing from side to side in just four quarters.

Miller said returning to the Rose Garden could not come at a better time for the Blazers. While Portland’s belief that it can upset the higher-seeded Suns and steal the series has not been shaken, the Blazers must be more assertive and more aggressive.

“We’ve just got to hit them first,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, McMillan just wants to see more fight from a team that has refused to give in all season.

“We just kind of gave in to playoff basketball,” McMillan said.

Notes

• An MRI taken Wednesday confirmed that Blazers forward Nicolas Batum has a right shoulder strain. He is listed as questionable for tonight’s game, and will be a game-time decision.

“It really limits the number of options that we do have,” McMillan said. Batum said he will play tonight if given the opportunity. But his shoulder will be re-evaluated during a morning shootaround before a decision is made by the team.

If Batum, does not start, Martell Webster likely will take his place. “(Batum) didn’t tear anything,” McMillan said. “He does have a chance to play (tonight). But I don’t know; I can’t put a percentage on the chance of him playing.”

• McMillan hesitated when asked whether he will consider removing Fernandez from the starting lineup if the guard continues to struggle. McMillan added, though, that uncertainty surrounding Batum’s status makes a move unlikely.

• Roy said his right knee is healing well. There is no immediate timetable for his return, though. Roy’s status is considered to be day-to-day, and his knee is being re-evaluated daily.

• Blazers center Marcus Camby walked lightly on his injured left ankle following practice. Camby said he would be in the lineup for tonight’s game, though.

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