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As the Phoenix Suns have sputtered through seven straight lottery trips and consecutive sub-25-win seasons, their fans have taken to using the phrase “The Timeline” to refer to the franchise’s ongoing rebuilding effort. As in, on a long enough timeline, all these high lottery picks we’re putting together — Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson — will develop into the core of a legitimately and consistently competitive team.
Might want to tack a couple more years onto the end of The Timeline, guys.
The Suns welcomed the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday to kick off the 2017-18 NBA season. The visiting Blazers entered Talking Stick Resort Arena shorthanded, with second-leading scorer and starting shooting guard C.J. McCollum suspended after leaving the vicinity of the bench during an altercation in the preseason finale between these two clubs. As it turned out, Portland didn’t have anything to worry about in the scoring department … or, really, in any department.
The Blazers beat the hell out of the Suns on Wednesday, leading for the final 39 minutes of the game and riding big runs in the second and third quarters to an out-and-out destruction of the home team. Portland led by 43 points after three quarters in the Suns’ own gym, sat its entire starting five for the final stanza, and watched as its bench extended the lead to 58 points midway through the frame. It took a 3-pointer from Suns guard Mike James with eight seconds left just to get the final margin of victory under 50 points.
Is Josh Jackson watching a reply of a foul or just looking at the score? pic.twitter.com/Dazytn7t16
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) October 19, 2017
Despite that late shot, the Blazers’ 124-76 bludgeoning still made history. Before Wednesday, the biggest opening-night blowout the league had ever seen was the Los Angeles Clippers’ 46-point loss to the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 6, 1987. Before Wednesday, the worst loss in Suns franchise history was a 44-point loss to the Seattle SuperSonics on April 2, 1988. Now, the NBA and the Suns have new nadirs to tuck into the ol’ record books.
This, to put it mildly, is not the way the Suns had envisioned kicking off their 50th season as an NBA franchise.
Six Blazers scored in double figures, led by star point guard and Billboard-charting rapper Damian Lillard (27 points on 10-for-20 shooting, 4-for-6 from 3-point land, five rebounds, five assists, three blocks and a steal in 30 minutes) and reserve guard Pat Connaughton, who took advantage of McCollum’s absence by pouring in 24 points (9-for-14 from the field, 4-for-7 from 3) in 32 minutes of work off the Blazer bench.
Portland knocked in 14 of 24 3-point tries, outrebounded Phoenix 57-33, and held the young Suns to pitiful 31.5 percent shooting from the floor. The Suns’ high-powered backcourt of Booker and Eric Bledsoe combined for just 27 points on 11-for-35 shooting. The Suns managed only 10 assists on 28 made baskets, against 16 turnovers. This was annihilation in every facet of the game … without the Blazers’ No. 2 scorer.
Yes, we expected the Suns to be bad this season. We did not expect them to be this bad. And, to be fair, they won’t be this bad all the time. (That would be downright tragic.) There will be nights where Booker catches fire from deep, and Bledsoe slices through the heart of the defense, and Jackson brings energy and explosiveness in bunches, and Chriss and Tyson Chandler throw down alley-oop dunks.
But, with a team so young and with such little established top-flight talent, there will also be nights like this. The hope is that they eventually give way to something better. For now, Suns owner Robert Sarver and the rest of those with a vested interest in Phoenix’s basketball team have little more than hope to go on.
“I don’t really have a choice,” Sarver said during a pregame radio interview on 98.7FM in Phoenix. “Would I rather be a top-2 or top-3 team in the West right now and have those deep playoff runs? Yeah, absolutely. So I embrace (the timeline) because I think it is the best path for this team to win a championship. I don’t embrace it because I like it.”
On one hand, it would probably behoove Mr. Sarver to hunker down and really work on his embracing, because things could get pretty ugly before they get any prettier for the Suns. On the other, though … how much uglier can it get than this?
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