Against the Phoenix Suns, the Toronto Raptors should apparently be concerned that they’re averaging 19.3 points in the first quarter through 17 games this season.
Why is it funny if the Raptors (4-13) are 29th in the league in scoring and winless in the last 15 games against the Suns? That all looks bad for Toronto, who visits Phoenix (6-10) tonight at 7 p.m. in US Airways Center as Alvin Gentry’s squad returns home after a five game road trip.
But that worry about scoring 19.3 in the first? Not a worry at all.
The Suns have scored 19 or less points in 18 of 64 quarters played this season. My calculator says that’s more than a quarter of Phoenix’s quarters (28.125 percent to be exact), which means that the Suns usually score less than 19.3 points in one quarter every game. In fact, they’ve only played three games of 16 while scoring 20 or more in every quarter.
On a the second game of a back-to-back and coming off a season-worst 37.3 percent shooting against the Dallas Mavericks, the Suns should have every reason to worry about losing to the struggling Raptors.
Andrea Bargnani is making his All-Star push by averaging 22.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
DeMar DeRozan, while lugging along a 9.8 PER, has the talent to go off. And again Raptor’s point guard Jose Calderon quietly sits amongst the point guard elite by averaging 10.8 points and 8.7 assists per game.
But after the Suns got carved up by one of their former figureheads in Shawn Marion on Monday, there should be a fear of more bittersweet performances from players with any sort of ties to the city of Phoenix.
Those fears could begin with former Sixth Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa, who has been on a tear of late. Toronto head coach Dwane Casey has begun to give Barbosa the green light, and he’s scored in double figures in eight of his last nine games.
Phoenix’s fear of an opponent’s personal motivation could end with former St. Mary’s High School product Jerryd Bayless. Bayless returned on Sunday against the Clippers from an ankle injury that forced him out of the past 13 games, and he scored seven points and dished out five assists.
19.3 is the magic number per period the Suns should look to eclipse — they can’t afford to have any anemic quarters. While I don’t expect they’ll look like the Suns of old, all they need is a complete game to pull this one off. That’s not something they’ve been good at this year, and on a two-game home losing streak against two less-than-stellar opponents, the pressure is on.
Said Marcin Gortat to Paul Coro: “”We’ve got to win this game at home,” Gortat said. “We can’t trip any more at home. Games at home count double for us now.”
Three keys for Phoenix
1. Put ball in basket
This is how you play basketball. The Suns looked abysmal against the Mavericks on Monday, and it wasn’t like they weren’t getting decent looks against Dallas. Sure, the length hurt Phoenix to the point that the bench looked pretty awful, but turnovers and plain bad shooting put Phoenix in a hole it couldn’t overcome. Back at US Airways Center, perhaps Phoenix can find a confidence and a rhythm to its offense.
2. Keep on the boards
The Suns somehow won the rebounding numbers against a Dallas team that had more length, size and capability. Against Toronto’s rebounding attack, the Suns can’t allow Bargnani, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis to hit the offensive glass. The Raptors shoot 42 percent from the field on the season, and Phoenix must limit their opportunities for second-chance points.
3. Jump on them early
Losing eight games in a row, it’s likely Toronto doesn’t have the utmost confidence coming into this one. Most of those games have been double-digit losses, and the Suns could use a boost from the home crowd to stomp out any smoldering fire of life.