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PORTLAND, Ore. — Things have changed considerably for the Phoenix Suns since their embarrassing 124-76 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Talking Stick Resort Arena to begin the 2017-18 regular season — the largest margin of victory in NBA opening-night history.
Coach Earl Watson was relieved of his duties and replaced as interim head coach by assistant Jay Triano, a former lead assistant for Terry Stotts of the Trail Blazers.
And starting point guard Eric Bledsoe was sidelined indefinitely — the Suns have never used the term “suspended” — after tweeting, “I don’t wanna be here” with the club starting the season 0-3.
Since Triano took over and Bledsoe was shut down, Phoenix has gone 2-0, knocking off Sacramento and Utah to take a 2-3 record into Saturday night’s rematch with the Trail Blazers (3-2) at Moda Center.
Triano expects his troops to gain a little motivation from their undressing by Portland at Talking Stick.
“I hope that it stings a little bit, and that we go in there looking for a little bit of revenge,” Triano told the Arizona Republic. “It seems like a long time ago right now, but it should be in the back of our minds, for sure.”
Forward Marquese Chriss (ankle) was a limited participant in Friday’s practice and is questionable for Saturday’s game. If Chriss is unable to go, Triano might go small and start veteran swing man Jared Dudley, who is working his way back from offseason foot surgery. Dudley has played just five minutes in one game this season.
The statistics don’t line up well for a Suns victory.
Portland ranks seventh in the NBA in scoring (110.8 points) and Phoenix yields the second-greatest average (117.8).
The Blazers are the second-most accurate 3-point shooting team in the league (.443), and the Suns allow opponents to shoot the second-best percentage (.431).
Without Bledsoe, the Suns must dig deeper to contend with Portland point guard Damian Lillard, who has averaged 32.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists in his last five games against Phoenix. Portland has won eight of the last 11 meetings between the teams dating to the start of the 2014-15 campaign.
The Blazers, though, have struggled with their offense to start a stretch of schedule that includes 10 home dates in 11 games. They shot .375 in a 103-93 win over New Orleans on Tuesday and were at .393 in a 104-103 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.
“We haven’t played great offensively,” said Lillard, who was a combined 10 of 35 from the field in the two games. “That’s part of our growth as a team — being able to find ways to win games without exploding at the offensive end.
“We don’t want to have it that way, but we have to be able to win games when it’s not going for us (on offense). To do that, you have to get stops and limit other teams’ second-chance opportunities.”
The Blazers will focus their defensive efforts on Phoenix guard Devin Booker, who is averaging 21.8 points in his last five appearances against Portland. Booker, who turns 21 on Monday, leads the Suns with a 17.8-point average while grabbing 6.2 rebounds and delivering 4.0 assists per game.