Suns vs Raptors - Statement Game for Toronto?

Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

With Mickael Pietrus still un-signed, the Toronto Raptors in the midst of a six-game losing streak, and a five-game road swing awaiting the team, the HQ's Sean Tepper notes that tonight's match vs the Phoenix Suns is pretty much a must-win situation for TO.

To say that I am discouraged by the Toronto Raptors would be a drastic understatement. At 3-13 the Raptors not only boast the second worst winning percentage in the NBA, but the season - which started off with so much potential and excitement - looks to be headed into all too familiar territory.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the Raptors will be without Andrea Bargnani who is nursing his left ankle. While many may argue that that's a plus, Mr Primo ended the Raptors' 14-game losing streak against Phoenix with a 36 point performance last January.

But maybe reinforcements are on the way?

At the time I was writing this article, USA Today's Sam Amick reported that the Dinos will sign Mickael Pietrus in the next 48 hours and that Dominic McGuire would be the likeliest candidate to be released. If Pietrus passes all of his physicals and does in fact sign with the Raptors he could be an interesting addition to a backcourt that has been plagued by injuries. Whether or not he will be effective will remain to be seen.

Anyways, tonight's game against a very beatable Phoenix team provides the Dinos with a great opportunity at getting things back on track. Here are three things that the Raptors will need to do to get the W at home:

Valanciunas vs. Gortat: While this is by no means a premiere matchup, it is certainly tonight's most interesting one as both players have been wildly inconsistent all season long. As Raptors fans know too well, Valanciunas has flashed glimpses of greatness and has already shown that he has the potential to be a formidable centre in a few years. While the rookie still has many areas to improve upon, his most glaring problem in his game is his inability to stay out of foul trouble. After amassing 14 fouls in three games, Valanciunas did not commit a foul in Houston and only committed three against Memphis but he will have a difficult matchup up against Phoenix's best player in Gortat. It's clear that the Raptors need their 2011 first round pick on the court if they hope to end up on top. On the flip side, Gortat started the season off on tear, averaging 15.4 points and 11. 6 rebounds over his first five games, but has trailed off considerably since, eclipsing more than 10 points in only four games since. As Phoenix's top gun I expect Gortat to get the ball early and often and whether or not Valanciunas will be able to stay in the game long enough to defend him will be the deciding factor over a win or a loss.

Attack the Basket: While the Raptors boast the second worst record in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns have, statistically, the worst defense in the NBA as they allow an average of 102.6 points per game. While the Raptors' offense only averages 95.9 points per game they should look to attack the basket as much as possible, especially considering that they will most likely be without Bargnani for this one. If Lowry and company can put up over 100 points, they should be in line to pick up the W.

Statement Game: The only reason that I say that this is a statement game is because both teams are coming off of crushing - if not embarrassing - defeats. Phoenix lost a 40-point blowout at the hands of the lowly Detroit Pistons on Wednesday while the Dinos lost by 21 points to the Memphis Grizzlies and are currently riding an all too familiar six game losing streak. Both of these teams are in the NBA's lower echelon and winning tonight's game will go a long way in instilling confidence that the season is not yet a total lost.

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