The season-opening matchup between the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns was framed as a game between a teams going in opposite directions.
Portland had playoff aspirations and Phoenix was, for lack of a better term, looking towards the future.
Phoenix must not have gotten the message.
The Suns have kept the momentum from their opening night win in Phoenix, starting 5-2.
Point guard Eric Bledsoe is averaging more than 20 points and seven assists a game, and center Miles Plumlee is averaging nearly a double-double with 11.7 points and 9.6 rebounds. Starting power forward Markieff Morris, who was suspended for the previous meeting, is the defending Western Conference Player of the Week.
“I think what’s surprising is they are one of the top defensive teams as well,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said.
So far the Suns are winning with their defense as they are currently fifth in the league in defensive efficiency, giving up only 96.7 points per 100 possessions.
Eric Bledsoe, whose nickname is Baby LeBron, has been leading their attack on the perimeter.
Plumlee has also been a factor in altering shots and blocking them at the rim. He’s fifth in the NBA in blocks per game.
Lillard was not surprised with Plumlee’s athleticism but regardless of the opponent, he believes he must be better at finishing.
“I got to start finishing more anyway,” Lillard said. “The ball is just not spinning how it usually does. Those finishes, they’ll go in.”
Lillard is shooting just 42 percent within five feet of the basket and shot 52 percent from that distance last year, per NBA.com.
Lillard did, however, score 32 points in the opener.
Defensively, the Blazers allowed 31 fast break points by the Suns. Ever since, Portland has been working on its transition defense.
Phoenix spaces the floor well with good-shooting big men. That said, the Blazers plan to stick to who they are.
“We have to stay with that formula,” Stotts said. “The transition was the biggest problem but them the spacing the floor is obviously an issue.”