The Toronto Raptors slink into Arizona, still trying to figure out how they could lose a game in Oakland in which they held a 27 point lead in the third quarter. The Phoenix Suns were supposed to be in clear-cut tanking mode, but didn’t tell the players. A 10-9 record sees them outside the playoff race in the Western Conference, but they’d be very comfortable ensconced in the East.
Phoenix’s starting lineup looks like a bunch of guys off the waiver wire, but they’re making it work. P.J. Tucker has re-invented himself as a demon defender after being a scorer in college, and will give DeMar DeRozan all he can handle. I remember him as a Rap, getting only a half-season as a rookie to prove he belonged in the show before being waived. I thought at the time the decision was unwarranted and premature. P.J. didn’t project as a star, but he didn’t look bad either – if you don’t remember him, he’s a Quincy Acy type, a thick-bodied “tweener”. He’s also shooting 50% from distance.
Phoenix doesn’t have any stars, but relies on balanced scoring; six players are averaging double figures in points per game.
This game will likely be a tussle, with neither squad likely to run out to a big lead. For the Raps to eke out a win, they must:
- Bother every shot. Phoenix shoots and makes a lot more 3-balls than their opponents, with even their big men happy to bomb away. A zone defense might be just the ticket to prevent open shooters.
- Play pick & roll. Goran Dragic is the Suns’ point guard, and while he’s more than competent offensively, he can be exploited the other way. He’s neither big nor fast, which applies also to Eric Bledsoe. If Kyle Lowry gets a step on either them by using a Jonas Valanciunas screen, a lot of offensive options become available.
- Expose Gerald Green. This journeyman is enjoying his best pro season, but should be taken to school by Rudy Gay. Actually, I’d say if Rudy can’t efficiently pour in 23 points, my patience for him will have run out.
I’ll add a fourth key. It’s time for the Raps as a team to get angry. They keep discovering new ways to lose; it’s long past time to collectively resolve to win.
I’m tired of being right when predicting Raps’ losses. Toronto is well-rested and injury-free. Raps win 97-93.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.
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