Preview: Toronto Raptors (6-11) at Phoenix Suns (10-9)


Time: 7:00 pm MDT

TV: FSAZ

Suns

Suns

Raptors

Toronto Raptors

The Suns have blown away their critics this year with big wins over big teams like the Portland Trail Blazers (twice) and Houston Rockets. But the reason the Suns aren’t considered contenders in the Western Conference is because of their losses to sub-par teams like Brooklyn, Sacramento (twice), and Utah. If Phoenix is going to be taken seriously this season, they will have to take care of business against inferior competition, especially at home. Right now, the Suns are primed to do just that. Both Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe are fully healthy. Channing Frye is playing his best basketball in years. P.J. Tucker has turned into the best Swiss Army Knife in the NBA. And the Suns have a bench full of guys who can drop 15-20 points on any given night.

The Toronto Raptors on the other hand are struggling mightily, despite playing in the historically abysmal Atlantic Division. Toronto is having a hard time making their disparate pieces fit together on the court, and the losses have piled up as a result. The Raptors are discussed more for their potential as a trade partner than anything they’ve done on the court. All that said, the Raptors are only two games out of a playoff spot in the East, so they are just as dangerous as any opponent, and Phoenix cannot overlook them. For more on this matchup, let’s ask three important questions?

Who will handle the distribution duties for Phoenix?

While both Bledsoe and Dragic are averaging better than five assists per game, they’ve both recorded five or more assists in the same game only three times all season. Those were in Phoenix’s first two games of the year, and the recent road loss to Memphis. From the beginning of Bledsoe’s absence through his return to the starting lineup, Dragic recorded at least five assists in eight straight games. But Wednesday night in Houston, Goran deferred to Bledsoe and recorded just a single dime. There’s no need for Phoenix’s star guards to settle into defined roles right now. It’s just interesting to watch their dynamic change from night to night.

Which sophomore center will win the matchup inside?

Though they hail from different draft classes, Jonas Valanciunas and Miles Plumlee are both second year players. Valanciunas spent 57 games last year as a starter for Toronto. Plumlee recorded a total of just 55 minutes played last season in Indiana. But just under 20 games into their sophomore seasons, Plumlee has been the superior player. Miles has been a better rebounder and shot blocker than the widely touted Lithuanian, and they are both averaging just under 10 points per contest. Early in the season, Plumlee looked to be a real scoring threat, posting double figures in points in 8 of the Suns’ first 11 games. But since then, his confidence has waned severely and his scoring has slumped as a result. Part of this may be due to the Suns’ lineup changing because of injuries. Part of the slump may have been caused by legitimate struggles at the free throw line. Whatever his issue, this matchup at home to Toronto is a real chance for Plumlee to get back in the groove and show what a productive player he can be at both ends.

Can Slava get some time?

Though the Suns have won 10 games thus far, none of those wins have been “comfortable”. Specifically, the Suns haven’t blown anyone out and had the chance to empty their bench late in the fourth. This is in no way a bad thing. The Suns have been in more close games already this season than all of last year. They’re playing entertaining basketball and proving they can play with any team in the league. But the same factors that allow the Suns to contend with even the NBA’s best are also the reason they have trouble putting teams away early. The Suns rely on defense, threes, and fast break points. When one of those dimensions starts to falter, teams can come back on the Suns as they have so many times this year. Even when Phoenix has won by nine or more points, those wins have come against great competition like the Trail Blazers, Nuggets, and Rockets, teams that could easily erase a big deficit if the Suns started to coast.

What made the 2010 Suns so much fun to watch was the possibility of a starter-less fourth quarter. Sometimes the second unit played so well, that they extended the lead to the point that Nash and the rest could spend the entire final frame on the bench, whooping it up for their teammates. Goran Dragic was the genesis of a lot of those games. I’m sure he would appreciate the opportunity to see it from the other side. Toronto is still a capable team with big-time scorers in DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay, but the Suns are a better team from top to bottom, and they have a chance to really prove that tonight.

 

Tags: Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Preview Toronto Raptors

  • EBJM

    Interesting that you highlighted Jonas Valanciunas versus Miles Plumlee. Jonas Valanciunas is only 21 and taken #5 in ’11. Alex Len is 20 and taken #5 this past summer. Jonas is currently posting around 9/9/1 and already has 79 NBA games under his belt.

    Any news on his ankles? Suns are getting killed in the post and Len is missing out on some valuable experience, albeit it might only be spot minutes here and there. Slava has played a total of 8 minutes thus far and still don’t understand why Horny doesn’t give him a little burn since the Suns are getting killed in the post.

  • Cam

    Saw a little piece on ESPN stating that the Heat were looking for backcourt help. I wonder if McMiracle would/could look to swing Green to the Heat for Battier and a unprotected 2015/2016 1st round pick. Battier is only on a 1 year flier and could be turned again at the deadline because he has some value. Go Suns.

  • Foreveris2long

    EBJM, Coro briefly talked about Len 3 days ago when he essentially commented that when Len last played in back to back games v Kings, he felt ankle soreness and pulled himself from the game. The Suns are treating his condition with vitamins. Len apparently is not returning until he feels he is 100%.There was no discussion as to why he still feels soreness many months after the surgery nor an anticipated return date.

  • Scott

    @EBJM -

    Len is resting his ankles and won’t play till they are completely healed and not sore. Till then he’s doing strength training and presumably working on things like his shooting.

    @Cam -

    I don’t think they want to get rid of Battier. Joel Anthony is the name I saw floated.

  • Scott

    As far as the soreness on Len’s feet goes … I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to come back a little too quickly when he was practicing in training camp. They probably should have pulled him back then when he reported soreness. After all, he’s a big guy, and big guys put significantly more pressure on their feet.

    When players come back too soon after injury, it can be bad. Ask Grant Hill about it.

  • EBJM

    Anybody watch the Nets/Knicks last night? Amare blocked J.J. at the rim. 2004-05 seems so long ago.

  • EBJM

    Hey Forever you have to love Sekou Smith’s article on the Blazers on his blog at NBA.com Race to the MVP ladder. He compares the Robin Lopez/Aldridge pairing to that of Nowitzki/Chandler when Stotts was Carlisle’s assistant during their 2011 title run.

    Robin sure has come a long way in his 2nd season out of Phoenix.

    BTW thanks Scott & Forever on Len’s update. I also heard Riley was trying to swap Anthony for a Mike Miller type. Too bad he amestied Miller. Looks like a bad move with Wade still injured. Miller is shooting 44% from downtown for the Grizzlies.

    The irony is that Joel Anthony was also elgible for amensty but was owed $7.6 mil compared to $12.8 for Miller. That enabled Riley to save between $15-$17 million in tax for owner Micky Arison and potentially $40 million over two years.

    The repeater tax coming in ’14-’15 will supposedly just kill arison in the wallet and Riley had no choice. I tried to use this reasoning with Eddie Johnson over his approval of the Lakers extending Kobe for $45 million to no avail.

    There are only two owners I beleive that can afford to spend any amount, Dolan and Mikhail Prokhorov.

    How is that working out for them?

  • azbballfan

    Yeah I would take a future 1st rounder for Gerald green and some expiring deal

    I love green, but there are better prospects in the draft we could look at with all our picks

    Mcmiracle has to have a master plan BTW, we ain’t keeping 4 rookies I can tell you that

  • SHAZAM

    “P.J. Tucker has turned into the best Swiss Army Knife in the NBA.” great line ryan

  • foreveris2long

    EBJM, very cool article and parallel by Smith. Thanks. I love when the Suns win and get Goodwin quality minutes. Young players need playing time to adjust to the speed of the game. There is nothing a player can do in a gym that equates with playing time. Markuief plays like a power forward tonight.

  • Sunsn7

    Damn it, we’re gonna miss out on the draft’s upper echelon of underclassmen.

    Suns may be headed for NBA purgatory. Just good enough to compete for a “one and done” playoff seed, and not bad enough to get themselves a franchise player

    .500 fun, these are our Suns

  • Dave:f32

    @Sunsn7 – valid observation