Blazers can't relax yet with Suns on the rise

Phoenix has won two of three previous matchups

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

Published:

Updated: April 3, 2014, 9:52 PM

 

TUALATIN, Ore. — As he enjoyed an off day Wednesday, Portland’s All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge wanted to get away from the competitive Western Conference playoff chase.

“On my off day I watch TV,” he said. “(I was) catching up on my “Shameless,” catching up on my Scandal. Olivia Pope, man, that’s my lady.”

As the Blazers, suddenly winners of four straight, returned to the practice court on Thursday, they turned their focus to a team that has made Portland nowhere near as comfortable as Aldridge was on Wednesday.

The Phoenix Suns, all-due respect to the rest of the Western Conference, have been Portland’s least competitive match-up.

The Suns, along with the Blazers, have been the NBA’s biggest surprise.

The Blazers played them three times in November. The style of play that has outscored Portland by 26 points over three games has sustained itself, resulting in a three-way tie for seventh-place in the West.

“The one win was a tip away from being another loss so it’s not like we dominated them in our win,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts.

Why does this team, that could be out of the playoffs with one misstep, do that makes Portland vulnerable?

“Just a very unorthodox team,” said Aldridge. “They play two, really small forwards at the power forward going down the stretch. They go really small and just spread you out, go pick and roll and take threes.”

Damian Lillard believes that Phoenix point guard Goran Dragic should have been an NBA All-Star, having carried the team even when do-it-all guard Eric Bledsoe missed 28 games due to injury.

“He’s basically been the head of it,” Lillard said about Dragic leading Phoenix’s improbable run to playoff contention. “He’s scored the ball, made plays, made guys around him better. He’s done it consistently.”

Consistency, in focus and attention to detail, has been key to Portland’s recent run.

Stotts said he wants the team to maintain the mental edge they’ve had recently, since their embarrassing loss at Orlando.

“We saw what could happen and we really bunkered down and fought a good fight,” he said. “Now we have off days, lots of home games and guarding against complacency.”

Lillard feels as though the response to adversity has come naturally.

“We still have a lot to prove,” he said. “It’s kind of like when adversity hit it gives you something to respond to. I think our team, a lot of guys come from that situation individually so when our backs are against the wall, a little bit of adversity hit it was natural for us to find a way to counter that, to respond to it. So right now it’s a matter of us being able to keep our focus how it is.”

A win against Phoenix would bring Portland’s magic number to one for clinching a playoff spot. A far cry from the close to Lillard’s first season that ended on a franchise-record 13-game losing streak.

“I’m having a lot of fun just because we are 22 games over .500 this far into the season and we’re still trying to clinch a playoff spot,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy but shows you how tough the West is and when the competition is that high that makes everything more fun because it matters more.”