Preview: Toronto Raptors (20-50) at Phoenix Suns (35-34)

Phoenix Suns 114, Toronto Raptors 106



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It’s hard to imagine any team coming back full strength less than 24 hours after what the Phoenix Suns went through on Tuesday night.

In what was, without a doubt, one of the most thrilling games of the 2010-2011 NBA season, the Suns fell in triple overtime to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The outcome ultimately buried a career-high 32 points from forward Channing Frye and Grant Hill’s All-NBA defense, instead highlighting Vince Carter’s atrocious night, one in which he shot 7-for-23 for 17 points. Perhaps making Carter’s performance look even worse were the particular shots he missed — a potential game-winner and the shot that could have forced a fourth overtime.

The defeat was likely the Suns’ most taxing of the season and the question becomes whether or not the Suns will have anything left in the tank as they play the second game of the back-to-back at home against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

The good news is it’s the Raptors, a team the Suns have beaten in 13 consecutive meetings and 26 of 33 games overall. The bad news is that the Suns’ crucial players all logged significant minutes Tuesday. Take a look:

Steve Nash: 49 minutes

Vince Carter: 40 minutes (You’re probably wishing that was less)

Grant Hill: 44 minutes

Channing Frye: 57 minutes (Most by any NBA player this season)

Marcin Gortat: 53 minutes

That leaves few fresh legs for the Suns, but don’t look for anyone to ask for rest. This team knows how important every game is right now. They especially knew how important the Lakers game was, and they may have won it had Hill not fouled out (questionably).

“We felt like we needed to win every game anyway,” Frye told Tuesday night. “I think you saw that regardless, we were going to come out here and play. Even if some people think we’re mathematically done, we’re still going to come out here and play.”

The Suns are now three games out of the final Western Conference playoff spot. Of their 13 remaining games, eight come against playoff teams. Seven of the 13 come at home, essentially making the home/road advantage a moot point.

The biggest concern coming off Tuesday’s marathon game could be the health of Nash. Having dealt with a painful groin injury lately, it was surprising Nash played as long as he did. Taking the floor again the next night (and you know Nash won’t rest with this team fighting for the playoffs) will be all the more draining for the new NBA assists per game leader.

“We just have to be professional,” Nash said. “You go out tomorrow and do the best you can.”

At risk of beating the point to death, it is very fortunate for the Suns that they get the Raptors on Wednesday. It’s not that the Raptors are incapable of beating the Suns (they nearly did last season, when the Suns were better); it’s simply that the Suns certainly need a game that doesn’t require them to expend every ounce of energy they’ve got.

The rest of March will be pretty much a grind, with matchups against New Orleans, Dallas and Oklahoma City before the Suns embark on a brutal April schedule. Getting a win Wednesday will be one small way of making that challenge easier.

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