The Suns will head north looking for their fifth consecutive road-win today, as they’ll take on the Toronto Raptors. The Suns have managed to put together a pretty nice win streak, albeit against some of the lesser teams in the already weak Eastern Conference. This game will serve as a good test to see where the Suns are, as the Raptors are one of the better teams in the NBA.
The Raptors are an impressive 11-2 on the season, winning nine of their last ten games, and outscoring opponents by an average margin of 12.2 points per game, which is the best differential in the NBA. The Raptors also average the third fewest turnovers per game in the NBA, while forcing the fourth most turnovers on defense, as they’ve gotten off to a hot start this year, but this is still a game the Suns could absolutely take. Both teams are on four-game win streaks as well, so it will also be interesting to see which one extends that streak to five.
One of the weaknesses of the Raptors is that, outside of Louis Williams, they don’t really have any players to provide scoring off of the bench. Toronto is 14th in the NBA in bench scoring, but without Williams, they don’t have a single bench scorer averaging more than 8 points per game. Additionally, Williams averages just under 14 point per game, meaning that even he is not that impactful as a scorer.
The Suns, on the other hand, could lose their top bench scorer (Isaiah Thomas, who averages over 15 points per game), and they’d still have Gerald Green, who averages above 14 points per game, in addition to P.J. Tucker, who has already had a couple of double-digit scoring games after serving his 3-game suspension. If the Suns are going to get the victory, they must be able to rely on their bench to outplay the Raptors, as both Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green must step up and play well.
A big test for Len
Alex Len is having a pretty solid year, averaging 13.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per 40 minutes, with a true shooting percentage of 68.7. Over the last six games, Len is shooting a blistering 80% from the floor, making 24 of his 30 field goal attempts, in addition to going 8-of-8 at the line. Len’s advanced statistics have also been pretty favorable so far this year, as he’s gotten the job done on both sides of the ball.
The former Maryland center has done some of his best work against good NBA competition, including a 17-point, 11-rebound performance against DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers, and a 10-point, 11-rebound outing against the San Antonio Spurs, so it will be interesting to see if Len can rise to the challenge and play well against Toronto big man Jonas Valanciunas.
Valanciunas is one of the more underrated players in the NBA, at least to the casual fan. Valanciunas is averaging 11.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, with a player efficiency rating of 20.53, which is eighth in the NBA out of all starting centers. Additionally, out of all players that have attempted 75 field goals or more, Valanciunas ranks 10th in field goal percentage at over 55%. Similar to how this game will provide a good test to see where the Suns are this season, it will also help to allow Len to see how he measures up against one of the NBA’s better big men.
Cooler heads will prevail
Suns’ point guard Eric Bledsoe currently leads the NBA in technical fouls, and he is tied for the lead in ejections (albeit with just one in 14 games). While Bledsoe isn’t even close to touching Rasheed Wallace’s single season record of 41 (!!!) technical fouls, he is on pace for nearly 30 this year. It’s been concerning to see Bledsoe get in this much trouble early on, especially considering that if he reaches 16 technical fouls, he will be suspended one game for every additional two he racks up. The Suns cannot afford to give away any free points against the Raptors, but perhaps more importantly, the Suns cannot afford to lose Bledsoe for games down the stretch as they try to make the playoffs.
Bledsoe, and really the entire team, will need to be careful not to shoot themselves in the foot, as Toronto certainly doesn’t need any help winning games. The Raptors are tied for the second-fewest technical fouls in the NBA with just three on the year, compared to the Suns who have racked up 16. Discipline will be key in this game, as the Suns will need to play a complete game, and really a clean game, to get the win.
While the Suns have won four in a row, Toronto’s starting lineup has a lot of firepower, with two different players that would lead the Suns in scoring this year. If the Raptors can get an early lead and keep the Suns chasing them for the entire game, Phoenix will eventually falter, leaving Toronto to walk away with a hard-fought victory.