Suns, Trail Blazers trying to snap losing skids

2022-03-02 18:43
Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Credit Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns will be without their best player on Wednesday when they look to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers.

Three-time All-Star guard Devin Booker entered the NBA's health and safety protocol earlier on Wednesday. He is averaging 25.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals in 54 games (all starts) this season.

The Suns' recent struggles have occurred with All-Star point guard Chris Paul out of the lineup due to a fractured right thumb. The Suns defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in their first game without Paul before they dropped consecutive home games to the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz.

Phoenix had won 19 of 20 games prior to the two setbacks, and still has the best record in the NBA -- 6.5 games better than second-best Golden State.

Booker had to do most of the ball-handling with Paul and backup point guard Cameron Payne (wrist) sidelined. That caused a disruption to the usual flow the Suns enjoy on offense.

"That's a tough scenario, especially without two of your top point guards," Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. "I'm proud of our guys the way that we've battled. If we could have gone 2-1 in this scenario, it would have been a huge win for us. We went 1-2, not what we wanted, but I think we're learning a lot about our team."

In a bit of good news, Payne is expected back after missing 16 games with a right wrist sprain. He was listed as probable on the team's injury report.

The Suns are 2-1 against Portland this season and have won five of the past six meetings.

The two teams meet for the final time this season at a point in which the Trail Blazers have lost their past two games by an average of 34.5 points.

Both of those games were at home: The Golden State Warriors scorched Portland 132-95 on Thursday and the Denver Nuggets clobbered the Trail Blazers 124-92 on Sunday.

"It was a tough one pretty much from the (start)," Portland coach Chauncey Billups said after Sunday's loss to the Nuggets. "We had a couple good moments but we (weren't) able to sustain, for the most part. We played hard, I give us that credit. We played hard."

The back-to-back beatings follow a stretch in which the Trail Blazers won four straight games, which included impressive road victories over the Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies.

Big man Jusuf Nurkic fueled those two wins the with averages of 27.5 points and 12 rebounds. But during the All-Star break, he was ruled out for four-plus weeks with a foot injury. That leaves Portland with none of its initial five starters who began the season.

Journeyman Drew Eubanks joined the team on a 10-day contract to fill in for Nurkic. Against Denver, in his second game, he had 13 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth career double-double.

The Trail Blazers are still in the mix for a Western Conference play-in spot but have the look of a franchise simply trying to identify players who can be part of the future.

"We just have a lot of guys that are just learning how we want to play," Billups said after the Denver game. "Can't be frustrated with that. It's a part of the process. ... That team was just good and better than we are."

--Field Level Media


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