The Phoenix Suns have had their way with the Portland Trail Blazers so far.
During the two teams’ first meeting on Feb. 22, Phoenix rolled to a 132-100 victory over Portland in the Valley of the Sun.
On Thursday night, the Trail Blazers put up a much better fight through three quarters, but couldn’t string together defensive stops in the fourth, falling to the Suns 127-121 at Moda Center.
When Phoenix guard Chris Paul was asked following the game if he looks at a win over Portland any differently considering the two teams’ close seeding in the playoff picture, Paul made it clear the Suns haven’t played the real Trail Blazers yet this season.
“Way too early. Don’t get it twisted, y’all got to realize that Portland out there without CJ McCollum and Nurkic, know what I mean?” Paul said. “For us, it’s about us, we got to play our game and whoever’s out there, we have to compete and win the game, but that’s not they team.”
Paul is right—Portland is without the services of two of their most important players in McCollum and Nurkic. McCollum was cleared for contact practice last week as he continues to heal up from his left foot fracture suffered in the Trail Blazers win over Atlanta on Jan. 16. McCollum averaged 26.7 points and 5 assists in 13 games for Portland.
Meanwhile, Nurkic is making strides in his recovery after undergoing surgery on his right wrist and has continued to heighten his on-court activity.
Over All-Star Break, Nurkic teased a return to the court on ESPN’s The Jump, saying he could be back in “a week or two,” after the Trail Blazers began the Second Half of the season. The 7-foot Bosnian center recorded 10.3 points and 7.6 rebounds prior to his injury.
Without two of its key players on the floor, Portland has remained competitive at 21-15, good for sixth in the West. They are just now 6 games back from Phoenix, who owns the second spot in the conference as of Thursday night.
A healthy Nurk and CJ could be dangerous down the stretch of the Blazers' next 36 games in 66 days. McCollum dishing out dimes and Nurkic pushing the pace after grabbing boards is just what the doctor ordered for Portland, and it’s why every team, including Phoenix, know the best is yet to come for the Trail Blazers in the Second Half.