Wednesday, December 6, 2023
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NBA Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (3-10) at Phoenix Suns (7-6)

Devin Booker returned to the lineup, and the Phoenix Suns sprang to life and won three straight games.

The Suns will try to make it four on Tuesday when they host the Portland Trail Blazers, a squad that has lost seven consecutive games.

The contest is also an NBA in-season tournament game. Phoenix is 1-1 and in third place in West Group A, while the Trail Blazers are 1-2 and in fourth place.

Booker has played in just five games this season due to ankle and calf injuries. He returned for last Wednesday’s win over visiting Minnesota and averaged 27.0 points and 9.3 assists in the victory over the Timberwolves and two ensuing road victories over the Utah Jazz.

Booker scored 31 points against the Timberwolves, had 24 points and a career-best 15 assists in Friday’s win over the Jazz and came back with 26 points in Sunday’s 140-137 double-overtime victory.

Fellow star Kevin Durant had a monster outing with 39 points, eight rebounds and a season-best 10 assists in Sunday’s win against Utah.

Suns coach Frank Vogel viewed the contest as nothing less than the Suns taking care of business.

The Trail Blazers have lost 10 of 13 games to the start the season as they enter a stretch in which six of seven games are on the road.

It will be the first return to Phoenix for center Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft who was traded to the Trail Blazers in late September. Phoenix received center Jusuf Nurkic, forward Nassir Little and guard Keon Johnson from Portland as well as guard Grayson Allen from Milwaukee as part of a three-team trade in which Portland sent Damian Lillard to the Bucks.

At the time of the trade, the Suns termed the move as the best fit for the team.

Ayton averaged 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds in 303 regular-season games for the Suns over five seasons. He is averaging 12.2 points and 11.0 rebounds in his first 13 games for Portland, but he also has been passive on the offensive end and has shot just nine free throws, making seven.

The Trail Blazers will be licking their wounds after being shellacked 134-91 by the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.

Oklahoma City shot 71.8 percent from the field in the first half — making 11 of 15 (73.3 percent) shots from 3-point range — while building a 76-43 lead and continued to completely dismantle Portland.

The contest marked the seventh time Portland failed to reach 100 points. The Trail Blazers rank last in the NBA in scoring at 102.9 points per game.

The Lillard trade has hurt the offensive attack, and so did the loss of Anfernee Simons (thumb) in the season opener. Malcolm Brogdon (hamstring) is in danger of missing his sixth straight game. Rookie Scoot Henderson, the No. 3 overall pick, also is sidelined with an ankle injury.

Portland went 2-1 against the Suns last season.

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