PHOENIX — Two of the main questions the Trail Blazers needed to answer going into preseason play was whether they could be at least an average defensive team and if they had enough three-point shooters to play the style of basketball they’ve employed under head coach Terry Stotts.
Five games into their six-game preseason schedule, they might have a few answers.
Portland shot 52 percent from three and held the Suns to 37 percent shooting on the way to defeating Phoenix 113-104 Wednesday night in front of a crowd of 13,230 at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Trail Blazers are now 4-1 in exhibition play and have won four-straight preseason games for the first time since 2013.
Six Trail Blazers made at least one three-pointer Wednesday night, with center Meyers Leonard hitting his first four attempts from deep before finishing 5-of-6 from three for 17 points in 24 minutes. The 7-0 center out of Illinois also grabbed eight rebounds in his best game of the preseason.
“I was happy with our shot selection,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “The threes, I thought there was generally good ball movement to the threes. Meyers was wide open, Chief (Aminu) was open, Moe (Harkless) was open. That comes with good execution and unselfish play.”
After the offseason trade that sent Allen Crabbe, who was ranked second in three-point percentage last season, to Brooklyn, some wondered how the Trail Blazers would go about making up his production from deep. But after five preseason contests, Portland is shooting better than 41 percent from three, significantly better than the 37 percent they shot last season.
“I think we’ve shot the ball pretty well,” said Damian Lillard. “I think when you lose a guy like (Crabbe), that’s what he does. He’s a specialist, he comes in and makes shots. You look for him, you know what he’s being put in the game for, but I think what we’ve done a great job of is not looking for who is going to be AC. We’ve done a good job passing and getting higher quality three-point shots, so even if someone isn’t AC, they’re getting a higher quality look at the three-point shot, which gives them a good chance to make it.”
Lillard scored Portland’s first eight points before ending the night with 13 points, four rebounds, two steals and a block in 24 minutes. Evan Turner filled the stat sheet in just under 16 minutes of play, going 5-of-7 from the field for 12 points, six assists, four rebounds and two blocks.
Ed Davis, starting in place of Jusuf Nurkić (concussion), grabbed 12 rebounds to go with seven points in 17 minutes.
While the Suns would shoot 37 percent for the game, they were sub-30 percent for the first three quarters before scoring 43 points in the fourth to make the game and their shooting percentage look more respectable. Holding a Phoenix team playing without Devin Booker and TJ Warren to sub-40 percent shooting might not be a monumental accomplishment, but their opponents shooting 41 percent though preseason will hopefully carry over once the regular season starts October 18.
“When we watch film and stuff we see things that we can improve on,” said Maurice Harkless of their defense in preseason. “That’s encouraging right there because we’ve been pretty good so far. The fact that we see a lot of things that we can improve upon, it’s great. We’ve still got a lot of work to put in, but as long as we keep putting in that work we’ll get better on that end.
Suns Rookie Josh Jackson led the Suns in scoring with 22 points on 9-of19 shooting in just under 40 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers finish their 2017 preseason schedule by hosting Maccabi Haifa Friday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.