Mar 12, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic (1) shoots the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half at US Airways Center. The Cavaliers won 110-101. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns (37-28) at Toronto Raptors (37-27): 3 keys to victory

Mar 14, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek (center) speaks to guard Gerald Green (14) and forward P.J. Tucker (right) during the first half of a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Arguably the NBA’s two biggest pleasant-surprise teams, the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors, clash on Sunday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre. The men from Arizona have defied all the pundits, including Yours Truly, by starting well and never folding. They are barely outside the playoff picture in the tough Western Conference, and will be highly motivated to grab a win. The Suns defeated the Raps in Phoenix early in December, in what turned out to be the final game in our colours for Rudy Gay (and Aaron and Quincy, of course). Can the new-look Raps knock off the overachieving Suns?

Coach of the Year candidate Jeff Hornacek has coaxed some excellent basketball from his squad of less than household names, none of whom has done more than point guard Goran Dragic. The wily Slovenian is the shiniest Sun in scoring and assists. He’s a high-percentage shooter out to and beyond the 3-point arc. Our coach, Dwane Casey, would be well-advised to put Terrence Ross on Dragic, in hopes of slowing him down somehow. Eric Bledsoe is a speedy gunner whom Kyle Lowry will clash swords with. P.J. Tucker has taken a long and circuitous route through foreign lands to arrive as the veteran starting small forward. He’s a ferocious defender, so DeMar DeRozan can expect another difficult outing. Channing Frye at power forward might best be described as a top journeyman. Miles Plumlee starts at centre, and can handle himself on the boards. Jonas Valanciunas, if he acquits himself as well as he did against Memphis, will score against the youngster.

There are precious few teams who count on their bench to the degree that Phoenix does. The Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, play nearly starters’ minutes. They mix it up, make enough shots to require attention, and run the floor. Gerald Green has emerged from D-League obscurity to dropping 41 points on the Thunder earlier this month. We really could use Patrick Patterson to get in this guy’s face; sadly, he’ll miss his 5th straight game while his elbow heals.

The Suns will score, but give up points in almost equal measure. Their offense bears a strong similarity to the Steve Nash-led “7 seconds or less” Suns. The Raps will require contributions from everyone, but can grab a win if they:

  • don’t sleep on the 3-ball. Phoenix ranks #4 in the NBA with 9.3 makes per game, .9 greater than Toronto, and their shooting percentage is #8. Our swingmen will need to get a hand up, and trust our big men if they get beat off the dribble. Pick your poison.
  • box out on defense. Dwane Casey must have used some choice words in film study today, as the Griz got too many second-chance points. The Suns have to be one-&-done.
  • get balanced scoring from the starters. While I like getting DeMar DeRozan on the scoresheet early, he can be a most effective decoy, and is happy to pass out of double-teams. Let’s see some dribble penetration from TRoss, and pick-&-roll with Amir Johnson and Lowry.

The Raps proved against Memphis they could prevail in a grind it out game. Can they do so against a high-scoring and unusually deep Suns squad? I think so – the Raps will grab a 109-104 win.



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