Preview: Suns (13-3) at Raptors (7-10)

Suns 113, Raptors 94





Before their 120-95 win over the Timberwolves, a few Suns were lamenting the cold weather in Minneapolis via Twitter.

It’s not getting any warmer for them as Phoenix heads to the Great White North to take on the mediocre, sub-.500 Toronto Raptors looking for its fourth win in a row, but the Suns aren’t taking this matchup lightly considering the way the Raptors challenged the Suns in Phoenix back on Nov. 15.

“Toronto is a team that gave us fits here,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said after Wednesday’s home win over the Grizzlies. “They’re a lot like us in that they have big guys who can shoot the ball.”

By “guys,” Gentry means forward Chris Bosh, who is averaging 25.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, as well as center Andrea Bargnani, who is averaging 16.8 points per game and shooting 42 percent from deep. Sound familiar?

While Channing Frye (a.k.a. “Deep Frye” to some Suns fans) is only averaging 12.7 points per game, he is shooting 46.2 percent from three — good enough for 12th in the NBA. With big men hanging around the perimeter, Suns-Raptors games aren’t typically defensive clinics. But that leaves the always-intriguing Bosh-Amare Stoudemire matchup down low.

The Suns have also added another post presence with the return of Robin Lopez, who showed a lot of growth against the Timberwolves (yes, I am cautious, as it was the Timberwolves after all), scoring eight points, grabbing seven boards and notching two blocks in just 15 minutes of action.

As has been the case many times this year, the Suns encounter a team much like themselves. The Raptors are a top-five team in the league in terms of scoring, and the Suns are No. 1.

But while most were expecting an absolute shootout when the two teams met earlier this season, both squads just barely cracked the century mark. The Suns narrowly escaped heartbreak in that game when Hedo Turkoglu’s potential buzzer beater just missed.

It seems like the Suns and other running teams (if we can still call the Suns that), just tend to stifle each other when they match up.

The Suns have beaten the Canadian ballers 11 times in a row, with their last loss coming in February 2004 when Steve Nash was still in Dallas. Nash has always been crucial in these contests against the team from his homeland, dishing 18 assists in last year’s affair in Canada and converting a game-winning three-point play in the final minute of this year’s game in Phoenix.

Nash still leads the league with an average of 11.8 assists per game, his career best. The Suns will likely look to seal this game up early on to get Nash and the rest of the starters some rest before they head to New York to take on former Phoenix head coach Mike D’Antoni’s pitiful Knicks (but let’s be serious, does any Suns fan out there actually pity Mike D.?).

Things get much tougher after that when they head to Cleveland, take on the Kings at home and then face the Lakers and Mavericks on the road. The Suns surely want to take advantage of games against teams such as Toronto and Minnesota, and heading into that stretch, they need to add to the wins column as much as they can.

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