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Trail Blazers Guard Damian Lillard (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

On the heels of just their second loss in a 22-game span, the Suns play the second leg of their second back-to-back in December as they visit the Trail Blazers on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, TNT). A few games removed from their franchise-record 18-game win streak snapped at Golden State, the Suns have been dealing with attrition and hope to have center Deandre Ayton back in the lineup following a bout with a non-COVID illness.

The consensus line around the betting market on Tuesday morning, including on BetMGM‘s and DraftKings‘ oddsboards, banged-up Phoenix is a 1.5-point road favorite, but FanDuel was offering Suns -1. The total is about 219.5.

Suns Injuries

In handicapping this game against at Portland, Ayton’s availability is where you start. The 23-year-old former No. 1 overall pick is the key to Phoenix’s stingy defense but hasn’t played since Dec. 6. He participated in shootaround on Monday with the intention to return for what would eventually be a 111-95 loss at Staples Center but ended up missing the Western Conference Finals rematch against the Clippers. Getting shots up on the day of a game would indicate he’s close to return and may indeed be back in the lineup at the Moda Center, so monitor developments on that front.

The outlook isn’t as rosy for Suns’ All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker, who is dealing with a hamstring issue that has kept him out all month. He was injured in the Nov. 30 win over the Warriors and will miss his sixth consecutive contest here but is making progress, telling reporters that he’s recovering and the injury is improving. Expect to see him back sooner than later, but he won’t be in the mix against the Trail Blazers.

Not So Rosy In Portland

It’s been a tumultuous first season for Chauncey Billups as Portland’s head coach. Former president/GM Neil Olshey, who hired Billups, was fired after an investigation uncovered a toxic work environment. Star guard Damian Lillard has pledged his desire to stay put and wants to play in Portland for his entire career but is growing impatient with the team’s continued defensive struggles. He’s also shot the ball poorly by his standards this season and has dealt with an abdominal injury that sidelined him from Nov. 30 until his return on Sunday night.

Backcourt partner CJ McCollum has been on the trade block, since he’s the team’s top asset to pry a difference-maker like Ben Simmons out of Philadelphia, but he’s sidelined indefinitely after suffering a collapsed lung earlier this month. The injury is likely to keep him sidelined at least another few weeks, further stunting the team’s development.

Despite Lillard’s return against the Timberwolves on Dec. 12, Portland suffered a 116-111 that extended its losing streak to five games. The Blazers have dropped seven of their last eight and blew a seven-point fourth-quarter advantage by giving up a game-clinching 23-11 run over the final 7:14. Anfernee Simons scored 26 points in filling in for McCollum, but Lillard shot just 5-for-17, finishing 3-for-14 from 3-point range.

The NBA’s new rule changes have affected Lillard since he’s not getting as many calls driving to the rim, but that offers no excuse for his struggles from beyond the arc. The six-time All-Star is a 37.1 percent career 3-point shooter, but has seen his numbers dwindle to sub-30 percent through his first 21 appearances this season. Despite taking over nine attempts per game, he’s averaging fewer than three makes, his lowest output since 2014-15.

Familiar Foes

This will be the third meeting between these Western Conference foes, who wrap up the season series on March 2 in Phoenix. Portland (+3) won 134-105 at the Moda Center back on Oct. 23, getting Billups his first victory as a head coach. McCollum led the way with 28 points, while Simons added 18 points off the bench. Phoenix (-5) got even with a 119-109 home triumph on Nov. 10, as Frank Kaminsky came off the bench to score 31 points in 31 minutes in a game Ayton missed. Chris Paul added 21 points and seven assists.

Kaminsky is also out due to a stress reaction in his right knee and remains sidelined indefinitely.

Suns-Blazers Betting Analysis

The line has shrunk to Suns -1.5 points on most oddsboards, adjusted from as high as -3 during early betting action. If it’s announced Ayton is returning, expect that number to head back north, although that isn’t likely to be official until closer to tip-off.

The ‘under’ has connected in four of the last six involving Portland, but most of those results coincided with Lillard’s absence. The low side has cashed in six of Phoenix’s last seven games.

With Ayton’s availability up in the air, the call here is to expect another lower-scoring game since continuity is an issue on both sides.

About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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