|Slumping Trail Blazers look to get going against Suns|
PORTLAND, Oregon -- Two teams headed in the wrong direction hope to make a U-turn Thursday night when the Portland Trail Blazers play host to the Phoenix Suns at Moda Center.
The Trail Blazers (13-11) have lost eight of their last 11 games as they have fallen from the top spot in the Western Conference to No. 8.
The Suns (4-20) have dropped six straight and will be without their top two scorers -- guard Devin Booker (hamstring) and forward T.J. Warren (ankle) -- when they face the Blazers.
Phoenix has lost by at least 14 points in each of its last four games.
"I thought, honestly, that we'd gotten out of that rut of losing by 20 points," veteran guard Jamal Crawford told reporters. "We started being competitive. We were in games. For whatever reason, we've taken a step back."
"It's really frustrating," guard Troy Daniels said. "We all want to compete. We all want to win. Nobody is out there trying to lose a game. But when things aren't going your way, it's hard to keep guys upbeat."
First-year coach Igor Kokoskov said the Suns must play with a "greater sense of urgency."
"Back to fundamentals," Kokoskov said. "There's nothing cute about this game. No one's going to have mercy on us. Nobody is going to be sensitive. It's gladiators. Once you step into the octagon, it's nothing but a basketball fight. We found out (Tuesday against Sacramento, in a 122-105 Kings' victory)."
Phoenix has been starting one rookie, center Deandre Ayton, and there's a chance a second rookie, De'Anthony Melton, could start at point guard in place of Elie Okobo after Melton scored a season-high 21 points against the Kings. Even so, Kokoskov doesn't look at them as saviors.
"For us to expect (Ayton) is going to win every game for us and dominate -- it's not happening," the Suns coach said. "We have to be realistic and not put too much on these kids."
During games of the past three weeks, the Blazers have typically fallen behind early in games, and their overall defense has taken a dip. Since a 100-94 win over Boston on Nov. 11, Portland has yielded an average of 118.2 points per game.
"We really want to snap out of it," Portland point guard Damian Lillard said. "We know what it is - we're not defending well. Our urgency, our desire to just go out there and win a game, is not at the level we need it to be."
The Blazers are not playing confidently, and they're not getting the kind production off the bench that they got earlier in the season. They know they need to get things turned around before it's too late.
"We need to find a way," center Jusuf Nurkic said. "We're broken players right now. Nothing is going how we want, but we have (almost) 60 games left. We need to show some pride and show which way we want to go."
"We need to get a win in the worst way possible," guard CJ McCollum added. "I'd say we're pretty desperate right now."