Trail Blazers-Suns Preview

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By Natalie Rivers By Natalie Rivers

(AP) -- The Portland Trail Blazers seem on a mission to prove they should've received more hype heading into the season.

Off to the best start in the Western Conference, Portland seeks its eighth win in its last 10 regular-season meetings against the Phoenix Suns when the teams meet Friday night at US Airways Center.

Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers - not to mention defending champion Dallas - received much of the attention in the West prior to the season, but it's the Trail Blazers making the most noise so far.

Portland improved to a conference-best 5-1 after beating the Lakers 107-96 on Thursday behind 31 points from Gerald Wallace and 28 and 10 rebounds from LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Blazers' only loss came 93-88 at the Clippers on Sunday, but they responded with a 103-93 win at Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

Portland ranks third in the NBA in scoring, averaging 102.8 points per game, and it's committed only 13 turnovers in its last two games while beating two of the conference's preseason favorites.

"We're building character," Wallace said. "We're trying to establish the way we want to be as a team. We want to be an up-tempo team and attack, and most of all pressure on defense."

Wallace is averaging 17.2 points and shooting 55.1 percent.

"(The coaches) want me to get out on the floor and attack," said Wallace, who went scoreless in the team's lone loss. "Cause havoc, run, give the guys something to feed off of."

The Blazers have won seven of the last nine regular-season meetings with the Suns (2-4), who continue to sputter along after falling 98-89 to Dallas on Wednesday.

Martin Gortat scored 22 points and added 10 rebounds, while Steve Nash had 15 points and 12 assists.

Phoenix, though, allowed 19 offensive rebounds after giving up 15 over its previous two games combined.

"We held them to 41 percent shooting which is more than acceptable, but we missed a lot of shots," Nash said. "We're OK offensively, but you can't give up so many offensive rebounds like we did tonight."

Hakim Warrick - the team's leading scorer at 12.8 points per game - scored nine off the bench, though the reserves were outscored 51-21.

"That's where the separation came, with the second units," coach Alvin Gentry said. "That's where the lead came and it was hard for us to overcome."

Falling behind presents more of a challenge for Phoenix than it has in recent years. Its normally high-octane offense has eclipsed the 100-point mark only once, in Monday's 102-91 victory over Golden State.

The Suns have finished in the top five in points per game every season since Nash arrived in 2004-05, but their 91.3 average this season ranks 24th. They hope to eventually receive some help from the recently signed Michael Redd, though he likely won't be activated for at least another week.

Phoenix beat the Blazers 115-111 in the most recent meeting Jan. 14, as Nash scored 23 points and added 13 assists. Wesley Matthews had 26 points and Aldridge 25 for Portland, which was still six weeks away from trading for Wallace.

These teams have split the last four regular-season meetings in Phoenix, though the Suns won two of three in their 2010 first-round playoff victory against the Blazers.