Suns-Trail Blazers Preview
By JORDAN GARRETSON
(AP) -- Few teams may have been looking forward to the All-Star Break more than the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns. Both will try to break out of losing streaks Tuesday night as Portland hosts Phoenix.
The Suns are trying to thwart their fourth losing streak of four or more games, while the Trail Blazers look to avoid matching a season-high six-game skid. Each team won at home in two earlier meetings this season, and Portland has won the past seven matchups at the Rose Garden - its longest active home streak against any franchise.
The Blazers (25-28) lost five in a row to end a six-game road trip prior to the break and the finale was particularly bad, falling 99-63 at New Orleans on Wednesday. The point total and field-goal percentage (32.8) were easily the worst of the season for a Portland team which had been operating efficiently, averaging 102.5 points and shooting 49.9 percent in the previous six games.
An already bottom-third defense, though, continues to be exploited. The Blazers are allowing 109.8 points on 52.3 percent shooting - including 43.5 percent from 3-point range - over the last five games.
"It's a rough way to go into the All-Star break, losing five games in a row with a big loss, so we just need to get back on track," Nicolas Batum said.
Batum is averaging 15.3 points but has been mired in a slump, scoring nine or fewer in four of the last six games. Having Batum right himself could be especially crucial if Wesley Matthews is out for an extended period after spraining his right ankle in the first quarter Wednesday. Matthews, averaging 14.8 points and a team-high 1.4 steals, didn't return and is listed as questionable for Tuesday's game.
The Suns (17-36) have the worst record in the Western Conference and their 5-23 mark on the road is tied for the league's worst. While Portland's defense has struggled of late, Phoenix's offense has slowed to a crawl, averaging 83.5 points during the current four-game slide - down from 94.7 on the season.
Sloppy play has plagued the Suns, who have averaged 19.0 turnovers over the last four games. Goran Dragic has 15 turnovers in that span while shooting 37.8 percent.
Finishing games well is another area that continues to hurt the Suns. In their most recent game, they outscored the Lakers 24-9 in the third quarter last Tuesday but fell apart in the fourth to lose 91-85. Phoenix averages 21.9 points on 41.1 percent shooting in the fourth, with both being its lowest for any period.
"It's just the story of our team this season," swingman P.J. Tucker said. "Just not being able to close the game out and being able to be in a position to win the game. It's just something we have to keep trying to get better at."
Phoenix may look to Marcin Gortat after solid performances in the first two meetings when he averaged 20.0 points on 76.9 percent shooting.
Perhaps the Blazers can harness some positive vibes from Damian Lillard after the rookie's Skills Competition victory Saturday - or at least another good game from him against the Suns. Lillard averaged 24.5 points while shooting 53.8 percent in the two previous matchups.
Updated February 18, 2013